Why do people place bumper stickers on their vehicles? Is it a badge; an arm band. Are they advertising, identifying, sharing opinions or decorating with these car tattoos?
The other day I was driving down the highway, and a green cargo van was preparing to join traffic from an entrance ramp. As I passed the van, I saw that the bumper had a single white sticker with black text on it. The lettering was simple and large enough for me to read it. All it said was the name of a conspiracy theory-based podcast that was popular a few years ago. This program deliberately spread misinformation that led to extreme violence; so much so, that it was banned from social media. That’s all I’ll say about that.
What happened next puzzled me, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I involuntarily began to slow down. Why? To get a look at the driver of the van. Why did I want to see who was driving this vehicle? I wanted to judge the driver.
Was I going to put this person into jail? Give them a fine? Of course not. I could give him or her a nasty look… Would that be helpful?
At the moment, I sensed that something not quite right was going on in my psyche. I had places to go; things to get; stuff to do. Why did I find it important to judge another driver?
I reasoned that it might be valuable to know what kind of person would support a show that works to distribute hate. It could be helpful to recognize the type of person who not only listens to that trash, but believes in it enough to tell others to join them. Was I rationalizing prejudice? What feelings would I be subjecting myself to when I saw the driver’s face?
There was another thought bouncing around my head. I realized that I already pictured the driver of the van! This image was itching my mind. Viewing the driver would satisfy that desire. If my imagination were accurate, the itch would be scratched. If the person looked different, I would have food for thought. The itching would be converted to curiosity.
The van was getting onto the highway. There was a significant distance between our vehicles. My speed continued to slow. Cars were beginning to pass me.
What if the driver of the van was not the owner? I thought to myself. What if this person wasn’t responsible for placing that bumper sticker on the van, at all? It was older looking. Could I inadvertently judge the wrong person? What benefit did I get from seeing who was driving that van? Was this going to help or hurt my psyche?
As I analyzed my motives, I realized that I was hating the person who put the bumper sticker on that van. That sounds too strong. I didn’t even know who stuck that onto the back of the van! Whomever it was, though, they were promoting a program that worked at making people hate other people… Wait. What? Isn’t that exactly what I was preparing to do?
Yeah, but I hated people who hate other people, I rationalized. Even better, I hate people who get lots of people to hate. Hold on here. This CANNOT be healthy.
Whether the driver of the van met the mental description I was envisioning or not, I did not like the idea of feeding a hateful feeling inside of me. Speeding up, I decided to avoid seeing the driver. I took the temptation away by accelerating. A dirty look from me would not help anyone. In fact, it would only fuel animosity.
What was happening here is called self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is something that you make up to bolster prejudices. It ignores and discredits information that doesn’t support it. A person who thinks that cats are not friendly because they appear to be more independent than other animals will see a seemingly aloof feline napping and think, Just like a cat to ignore me; all the while petting the one sitting in his lap!
Not only do we humans believe funny things, but we work at building mental supports that encourage our beliefs. After giving a talk that goes really well, you remember skipping breakfast. The morning of the next talk finds your breakfast untouched. It goes great! From then on, you don’t eat breakfast before giving important talks. Some go well. Those are definitely due to skipping breakfast. Several talks find you starving and weak, forgetting your points and floundering. These performances couldn’t have been influenced by low blood sugar. They were caused by something else.
Prejudice is powered by self-fulfilling prophecy. To pre-judge someone is the equivalent of prophesying; telling the future.
Through viewing the driver in my bumper sticker story, I was looking to fulfill a prophecy. When I decided to ignore the driver’s physical appearance, I attempted to break the cycle of prophesying.
There is an expression: “Give others the benefit of the doubt.” This happens when you work at doubting your own predictions, prejudices, prophesies.
Warning: This isn’t to say ignore observances. Don’t befriend a bully on the pretense of giving them the benefit of the doubt! Actions are data. I’m not going to listen to the hate-filled show the bumper sticker advertised!
Have you ever found it difficult to overcome a prejudice? How did you do it?
Ackerman, C. E. (2020, April 17). Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Psychology: 10 Examples and Definition (+PDF). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/
Sheldon, A. (2020, May 6). The Unique History of Bumper Stickers. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://magazine.northeast.aaa.com/daily/life/cars-trucks/bumper-stickers/#:~:text=The%20bumper%20sticker%20as%20we,backed%20paper%20and%20fluorescent%20paint.