”It is never too late to give up our prejudices.” ~Henry David Thoreau
We all have them; these silent judgments, which invisibly harden into prejudice and separate us from whoever it is that we deem the “other,” whether based on race, religion or sexual identity. It is the invisible and unacknowledged judgments that maintain the strongest holds on us, limiting our ability to wonder and to be curious about what we can’t see. What we often miss is that as our openness dwindles, so does our capacity to become intimate. The truth is that there is a part of ourselves that we close off when we reject vast swaths of people around us. Generally our most severe and ardent judgments reflect back on something in us that we can’t quite accept.
Walking through Central Park in NYC this week, I got caught up in a street performance- an original and heartwarming break down dance about race, while the performers jumped over a long line of spectators. What still rings in my head, besides the enormous leap they managed through the air, is when they all rapped together: “The only race is the human race.” Their gig was endearing because, as they were enlisting volunteers into their show with lines like “We need your help, White Chocolate” and “No show is complete without cute Asian guys who dance,” they were simultaneously enacting and breaking down the racial stereotypes that we accept but rarely acknowledge. It got me thinking about my own prejudices, as it was one of the most generous and authentic interactions about racial differences I have witnessed in a long time.
Prejudices grow in the confines of our own darkness. Judgment flourishes where it goes unquestioned. What we won’t say out loud, or admit to, even to ourselves constricts our bandwidth of how we relate. A good example of this is in the context of our sexuality. Ignorance coupled with insecurity about who we are as sexual human beings is so common that our collective sexual conversation about everything from same sex marriage to sexual education is cloaked with prejudice. Irrational decision-making is often the result, as our deepest fears become hardened in our hearts. As a result, we disguise what we dislike and what scares us, rather than listening for what we refuse to question and reflect upon in ourselves.
What we rarely witness is how our prejudices are often most toxic within our cherished intimate relationships. We mistakenly, yet persistently believe that we can selectively discriminate, cutting ourselves off from this one, but not that one. We don’t realize how our prejudices create black holes in our hearts, veritable land mines that can be triggered by those we love best almost as easily as by those we hold apart. The energy it takes for our intimate partner to learn to tip toe around what we reject, attempting to not disturb the blocks that define our sense of well being comes at a cost to their attention to loving us. Our prejudices consume space with the people we love, partly because what is left unspoken takes up increasingly more space, and partly because where we are closed, no light can come in.
Sometimes intimate partners will choose to adopt our prejudices as their own to keep the “peace.” But this is a costly peace to sustain because it shrinks the entire relationship, diminishing not only what we can say to each other about the world, but also what we can risk saying to each other about ourselves. Also, giving up our own identity and belief systems is a sure killer to sustaining the passion that makes intimacy real over time.
Thus, often the most unexpected and tragic casualty of a prejudiced heart is how we unknowingly sacrifice the passionate potential of our sex life. Human sexuality does not thrive in the narrow darkness of judgment, playful abandon is impossible under the heavy cloak of ignorance and fear. Orgasm is not even possible in the mental cage of anxiety. If ever there was a reason to re-think your prejudices, it is this- freeing and expanding your mind and heart from erroneous beliefs will also expand your experience of pleasure… Emotional and physical.