Seeking Balance to Overcome Racism (Part 4)

The science of psychology has hundreds of specialty areas which can help with any problem in race relations, if politics are removed from the equation with inherent win-lose goals. In the previous article I highlighted the importance of research on prejudice, listening with empathy, boundaries, forgiveness, leadership, and cognitive therapy.  In this article, I would like to make note of some other specialty areas of study which can be helpful. As with all science, these complement the Word of God, when interpreted properly, and are designed by God to be a blessing to us.     

Reflect on: Psalm 133:1;  Proverbs 2:1-15

Science of Religious Experience.  Since William James wrote his famous book, Varieties of Religious Experience in 1902, research has taken place showing the value of balanced religious faith and spirituality. Dr. David Larson, Dr. Harold Koenig, Dr. Siang-Yan Tan, and Dr. Everett Worthington are only a few authors who have written extensively on research in this area, proving the unifying and health-giving dimensions of positive spiritual and religious experience. Core values related to unity, love, equality, meaning and purpose in life, as well as an empowerment to live out those values, can be found here.  Race relations can be well served by the leadership of religious communities who can have a powerful moral and spiritual influence on this dialogue.   

Reflect on: Proverbs 3:1-8; I Corinthians 2:12-3:11

Group Processes. Yalom’s curative factors in group therapy included instillation of hope, universality (people face similar problems), learning information, altruism (desire to help others), working through dysfunctional family dynamics in a healthier way, improved socialization, modeling and imitation of healthy relationships, group cohesiveness, and catharsis. Each of these has relevance when working together to resolve race relations. 

How can we facilitate committed mixed race community groups who are willing to address race relations to see the curative impact of getting to know one another in this way?

Reflect on: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; I Thessalonians 5:12-22 

Positive Psychology.  Research in this area addresses character strengths and virtues, and is a balance to the negative focus on pathology which can reinforce a victim mentality.  We can learn much from this area of study to build wellness and resilience.  Building on wisdom and knowledge, finding courage and love, developing hope and humor, pursuing gratitude and humility, seeking freedom and happiness, and many other positive areas of study can help each of us find valued direction in our pursuit of healthy race relations and fulfillment for all. 

Reflect on: II Corinthians 3:17-18; Philippians 4:4-13

Neuroscience.  In books by The Institute for Brain Potential, we see outlines for addressing deep seated, unhealthy patterns of behavior, including thoughts. Other resources such as the writings of  Dr. Dan Amen, Dr. Caroline Leaf, and Dr. Tim Jennings, give us insight into neuroscience for the layman. Research on neuroplasticity and our ability to modify even the chemical connections in our brain can help us understand how prejudices and even racist attitudes can be addressed when an individual chooses to train their mind to think in ways that value human relations with people of all races and people groups.  The human heart, mind, will, and emotions, can be transformed, which should give us all hope for improved race relations, if we choose to accept responsibility for our part in this complex equation.  

Reflect on: Romans 12:1-2;  Psalm 1:1-6

Cognitive Psychology. Racism is irrational. How do we first discern irrational beliefs, and then how do we challenge them? Racism disconnects from the larger group of humanity in favor of a smaller sub-group which wants to stay united in their use of power. Spirit-led, self-administered psychosurgery is needed, but can only be performed by each of us on ourselves with God’s help through the Word of God. Eliminate global generalizations, exaggerations, mind-reading tendencies, unfair comparisons, and all or nothing thinking.     

Reflect on: II Corinthians 10:3-5;  Romans 12:1-2

Love is what unites people. Fear, hurt and anger can lead to defensive reactions that hurt others, creating fractures in relationships. Repairing those relationships becomes necessary for there to be peace among all people groups. Let us pursue it. 

Reflect on: Galatians 5:13-16; Romans 12:9-18

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Mays Landing, NJ who also does tele-therapy. His website, has a blog designed to provide practical tips for managing a wide range of life problems. He also can be reached at 609-567-9022.

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Seeking Balance to Overcome Racism (Part 3)

In Marshall Rosenberg’s book, Non-violent Communication, we learn about a powerful process for healthy communication to help resolve conflicts.  We learn to express ourselves as well as listen without blame or criticism. We also see the value of “I” messages regarding what we observe and how we feel, tuning into needs, and clearly expressing what we want through non-demanding requests.  It is a reciprocal respectful process, proven to be successful around the world with various conflicted groups, including different races, nationalities, religions, and on a smaller scale even individual families.  

Conflict Management. Seeking ways of managing both internal and interpersonal conflict has been central to the field of psychology for well over a century. Acknowledging feelings, helping each side feel valued and heard, healthy communication of needs and desires, and fairness of both process and outcome seem to be essential ingredients. Win-win solutions are possible, barring interferences which hinder progress toward unity.

Reflect on: Matthew 5:9; James 3:17-18 

Problem-Solving. The steps of identifying problems, brainstorming solutions, evaluating options, and testing a selected option are essential, with input from everyone at the table. Every institution should be involved in this type of process, perhaps an “action research” approach, where solutions are revisited and reevaluated to see if they are moving toward the stated goal. Applied to race relations, we can do better.

Reflect on: Proverbs 14:15; 21:5;  Galatians 2:1-21 

Teamwork.  The science of teamwork has demonstrated many excellent principles for helping teams work more efficiently and in greater harmony. Emotional Intelligence research expands this literature even further, with healthy relationships growing out of a healthier individual sensitivity to your own and others emotional reactions. Similar goals and creating bonding experiences are important.  How can we create such opportunities for interaction and bonding in healthy ways?  It is doable.

Reflect on: Ephesians 4:11-16;  I Corinthians 12:4-27

Seeking Balance to Overcome Racism (Part 2)

The call for justice in society, a universal desire inherent in the heart of all people, resonates across all cultures.  Protests across the USA illustrate this principle. The triggering spark that lit the fire of protests was the senseless death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer abusing his power over this man. Violence against police officers and others defending their businesses is also a serious injustice.  When institutions enable injustice in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, such as inconsistent treatment of people depending on the color of their skin or other differences, these need to be challenged.  (Ecclesiastes 5:8; Proverbs 17:14-15)

Assertiveness.  Free speech is a fundamental right in this country, since the First Amendment was ratified by our founding fathers. We all must speak out against wrongdoing and strive for justice, even if those injustices are through institutional politics and power inherent in some organization. Those who enforce justice must be careful not to abuse the power they have been granted, or tragedies like Mr. Floyd will continue to occur. Revenge by some who have chosen to go beyond peaceful protests needs to be stopped. Assertiveness is not aggression, and getting back to respectful assertive relationships is essential. 

Reflect on: Ephesians 4:25-27;  Proverbs 28:1

Boundaries.  Responsibility for our own individual actions is inherent in the concept of justice. Who is responsible for violations of the boundaries we define in our laws?  The perpetrator!  Defining the rules and consequences for violating those rules is part of why we vote for politicians who represent our personal beliefs and values. Children need to understand this in the home to internalize lessons from disciplinary actions and learn self-control. Apart from healthy boundaries, abuses of power will only grow and become more devastating to society.  Perpetrators of all crimes need to be held accountable, not through removal of boundaries, but rather through proper enforcement of justice.

Reflect on: Galatians 6:1-5; Proverbs 22:6, 15; 24:23-25; 28:4

Forgiveness.  Dr. Everett Worthington and Dr. Enright, and many others specializing in forgiveness research, have much to contribute as we seek unity. Marriages would all fail, if offenses were not put behind them. Families would all disintegrate. And societies cannot stand, if prior offenses cannot be put and kept in the past – after we have learned the lessons of our mistakes and changed our behavior. Sitting at the table together to dialogue is essential in order to achieve the unity forgiveness brings. Notable quotes: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude” (Martin Luther King Jr.). “There is no peace without forgiveness” (Marianne Williamson). “To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and realize the prisoner was you.” 

Reflect on: Ephesians 4:29-32; Matthew 18:15-35

Leadership. We have much to learn from leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He had a dream which should be our dream, too. Love, unity and justice for all are at the heart of that dream. Mercy and forgiveness, as Dr. King preached, are also necessary for us to move forward toward this goal. The science of leadership development can help. Humility, vision, and character are all essential in picking leaders we can follow.Reflect on: I Timothy 3:1; 5:17-18; I Corinthians 11:1

Seeking Balance to Overcome Racism (Part 1)

This article is an effort to give practical direction in our quest for solutions to such a complex problem with such deep historical roots.  One challenge, I believe, is to join together and share our diverse expertise and perspectives, gleaning from the hundreds of specialized areas of research and study in the field of psychology. In an international virtual town hall sponsored by the American Association of Black Psychologists, someone rightly indicated we need the “ammunition of science” to help our local communities.  Reflect on: Psalm 89:14; Proverbs 1:2-5

Generalizations and biases may cloud the judgments of all of us, but we can help one another to pursue a valued goal of unity. Reflect on: John 17:19-21; Ephesians 4:2-6, 12-16

Here are my thoughts for using this time in history as an opportunity for healing.

Acknowledge prejudices.  Awareness of our biases based on our past experiences can help us respond rationally rather than emotionally based on fear or unresolved anger toward a person or particular group. All racism is unjust, just as all prejudice is morally wrong. Research shows that self-awareness and mindfulness exercises can help us all. 

Reflect on: Matthew 25:31-46; John 4:1-42

Listen and empathize. The past century of research in psychology has shown the value of non-judgmental acceptance of others, tuning in and listening to them.  It is the foundation of therapeutic relationships. 

We need to listen, seeking to understand and empathize with the pain and grief others experience because of injustices done to them. People tend to pre-judge others based on many different factors.  Recognizing and overcoming those tendencies is part of our challenge as we seek to unite as a community and society.

Reflect on: James 1:19-20; Proverbs 18:13

Trauma research.  Trauma in our personal and family histories often creates a hindrance to healthy emotional and relational functioning.  Research addressing how trauma can be resolved and how people can build wellness and resilience into their lives has much to add to the race relations issue.  Post-traumatic growth literature can guide many of our discussions on this issue.  

Reflect on: II Corinthians 11:23-30; Hebrews 11:32-12:3