AAHA Website Link

Visit our Website! www.aahalearning.com

Monday, October 25, 2010

CHAPTER 2: Discrimination, Stereotyping and Prejudice: Understanding Through Direct Experience

As promised, here is the second chapter in our series about discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice.  Stay tuned for Chapters 3, 4 , 5 and 6, at two-weekly intervals.
A STEREOTYPE is a fixed perception, belief, paradigm, attitude and/or generalisation about yourself, others, a concept, a place or an event.

A STEREOTYPE has the following ADVANTAGES:
a)         Helps you create boundaries
b)         Assists you to make sense of your world
c)         Serves as a base for your behaviours and actions.

A STEREOTYPE also has the following DISADVANTAGES:
a)         Can block or distort your view of reality or the truth
b)         May seriously hamper communication and co-operation
c)         Can foster aggression and promote competition
d)         May give rise to PREJUDICE and DISCRIMINATION

Bear in mind that since we all belong to specific groups, it is easy to compare our group to other groups and favour the one we belong to.  Whenever any stereotype becomes staid and inflexible and your actions/words arising from them hurt, disadvantage or injure others, you are guilty of discrimination and prejudice.

Some important points to remember are :

  •  Recognise that your deeply held beliefs/attitudes and in particular your religious convictions may significantly influence your perceptions and behaviours towards other groups/people.  It is not a matter of having to  change your deeply held values or convictions but rather to learn to disagree gracefully.  To do this you need to develop the capacity to hold and respect opposing points of view at the same time.  Just as a sieve cannot hold water unless it is immersed in it, you too will not capture the essence of valuing diversity unless you are prepared  to immerse all of you, mind, heart, body and spirit in the process.
  • Bear in mind that many seemingly harmless acts can be discriminatory.  Adverts, gossip, talk shows, articles and jokes may also fall into this category.
  • The three common roles associated with discrimination are the oppressor, the oppressed and the onlooker.  The  oppressor's role promotes a heightened sense of superiority, power, aggression, satisfaction and justification.The oppressed role engenders a sense of anger, fear, resentment, revenge, confusion, insecurity and disempowerment.  The onlooker's role is commonly associated with passive approval or disapproval, guilt, denial and/or confusion.  Note that role reversals can occur quickly and subtly particularly under emotionally charged circumstances.
  • Truly valuing diversity cannot be achieved by merely focusing on facts, figures, policies or intellectual reasoning.  Very often these may actually hinder what it is that people really need to address and where it is that they need to go together.  What is essential is to return to the heart of the matter or the roots of our common humanity.  Only from here do we begin to open up, dare to take off our masks and bring down the barriers, real or perceived, that we use to separate, isolate and alienate ourselves from others.
Jesse Jackson's quote : "The only justification for looking down on someone is when you are about to pick them up", constitutes a powerful antidote for prejudice and discrimination.

  • The natural order and the truth inherent in it are abundant with examples of the beauty of diversity.  A majestic tree has branches stretching out in different directions, with variations in shape, thickness and length.  All these different branches, leaves, flowers and fruit are intimately connected through the trunk and deeply rooted to the very same grounding source.  And so it is with the human race - our different branches of race, culture, gender, age, abilities and aspirations sculpt who we are and what we do in the world.  Diversity is a principle of life harmoniously manifested in the natural world amongst all life forms with the exception of human beings.  In order to heal the heart of diversity do we not need to reason and act with deep connection to the truth which lies in the nature of things?
  • A wider more spiritual sense of compassion, tolerance and brotherhood is an essential tool in dealing with acts of prejudice, discrimination and violence.
  • Common issues/questions that surface in diversity learningshops are: constitutionalised discrimination; feelings of historical woundedness; remaining victimised by internalised racism; what does it mean to be an ally?; will you support us in tough times?; the guilt and shame of discriminators; the privileged group never have to think about being White, heterosexual, Christian or male; is it safe to hold my deep assumptions up for examination?
  • In a prejudiced state we filter out, ignore or are blind to any positive or valuable traits or characteristics in a person/group.
  • Anger and disagreement should not arise from a prejudice or stereotype but from a specific situation or circumstance.
  • To counter prejudice we must:
  1. Meet people as unique individuals.
  2. Walk in other people's shoes.
  3. Become more aware.
  4. Consciously be aware of our stereotypes and how they may impact on others

  • So much of the human wisdom and expertise about health, holism and community living is embodied in the world's different cultures.  Unless we meaningfully communicate and interact with people who are different from us, our perceptions will become less robust, our concerns too insular and our vision stale.
  • Preserving and nurturing diversity in all its manifestations may constitute one of the most significant challenges of our time.  A new appreciation for the power and integrity of our collective heritage, collaborative action on behalf of common goals and new approaches to cultural healing and social entrepreneurship will only be achieved when our focus shifts from the mere exchange of information to a real heartfelt commitment to building authentic community and valuing diversity.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Discrimination, Stereotyping and Prejudice: Understanding Through Direct Experience

What should be of particular interest to readers is the thorny topic of DISCRIMINATION, STEREOTYPING AND PREJUDICE. These are arguably  the most destructive and harmful forms of human behaviour on this planet. The more we discuss, debate and explore them the better.  Dr Copley pioneered a unique discrimination workshop in 1990 which has resulted in many thousands of people having this experience. AAHA Learning will be presenting a TRUE DISCRIMINATION STORY and will present this in 6 short chapters - one chapter approximately every two weeks.


Every life experience whether we like it or not, has the potential to teach us something.  Very often our biggest lessons are learned from unexpected, stressful and painful experiences Great variations exist in what we may learn from painful experiences.  Adolf Hitler for example was bullied as a child and discriminated against as an adult.  His response was the genocide of 6 million Jews, the ultimate act of discrimination.  Nelson Mandela on the other hand suffered a lifetime of discrimination, 27 years of which were in prison and yet was able to demonstrate almost Christ-like forgiveness in his role as the South African President.  The fact that one man learnt to hate and the other learnt to forgive and that both models then served as lessons for millions of others, is a potent reminder of the complexity and mystery of life.

The discrimination lesson or exercise was first used by an American primary school teacher Jane Elliott in the 1960's.  Her blue/brown-eyed exercise in discrimination has become world famous receiving wide support from educationists, psychologists, psychiatrists and human rights activists.  A best selling training video "The eye of the storm" has and continues to be used in schools, churches, organisations and institutions throughout the world by people who are concerned about the devastating effects of prejudice and discrimination. Many people using this model do not have the confidence, courage and skills to create a holistic experience of discrimination and prefer to teach their lesson through group discussions, role plays and analyses of the video.  While this approach does heighten people's awareness and cognitive understanding it does little or nothing at the emotional, physical, social and spiritual levels.


After seeing the video in 1990 I designed with the help of Johan Greeff a clinical psychologist, a holistic experience of discrimination which by all accounts was the first of its kind to be used in the South African apartheid era.  The results we achieved were significant and very soon other facilitators began to use the exercise.

Two major organisations, The South African Defence Force and Old Mutual, used the exercise extensively for a number of years.  Lance Bloch, a Defence Force clinical psychologist who later became one of my associates received the prestigious FOYSA and TOYP awards, the latter being presented by President Mandela himself for his work on diversity.  A major part of his diversity workshops involved the discrimination exercise.

Susan Nel, a clinical psychologist from Old Mutual who was also one of my associates designed with colleagues a very successful discrimination experience called "Eye to Eye".  Many thousands of Old Mutual staff went through the experience over a 3 year period.  Although I have no scientific evidence to substantiate it I believe that the many discrimination workshops conducted in South Africa between 1990 and 1994 contributed at some level to the almost miraculous peaceful elections in 1994.

What there is little doubt about however is the fact that with a 50-year history of constitutionalised racial discrimination many millions of South Africans who passively by accepting apartheid or actively by practising it, perpetuated a system riddled with prejudice and discrimination.  Clearly there is a pressing need for these people and particularly White South Africans, to be sensitised to and inoculated against the devastating forms of discrimination in its many blatant and subtle variations and manifestations.


Since the first discrimination exercise in 1990 we have learnt a great deal on how to structure, conduct and debrief what is unquestionably a profound and emotionally charged experience. Although our presentations and methods have changed and evolved over time one thing has remained constant namely our SPIRIT OF INTENT.  Our objectives are to create a realistic short term, holistic experience of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination which will provide highly relevant personal insights into :

-  Unconscious habitual stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination behaviours. 
-  How easily and quickly group divisions and separations can be created, intensified and accepted.
-  The individual and collective wounds and scars of different types of discrimination.
-  How stereotypes, traditions, ideologies and groupings give rise to prejudice, biases and discrimination.
-  Techniques that can be used to break the insidious and vicious prejudice/discrimination cycle.
-  Fostering kindness, fairness, compassion and empathy.
-  Managing conflict, resentment and anger.
-  Accepting and honouring diversity.

Note :  It is important that participating delegates are not told that they are going to have a very realistic experience of stereotyping and discrimination because this will significantly reduce the learning impact and understanding of this unique experience.
Using the discrimination exercise is always a gut wrenching experience for me because of the potential pain, hurt, stress and frustration which it may elicit in the short term. It is however a very conscious choice and carefully calculated risk I am prepared to take and accept. I am convinced that it provides a very effective and unforgettable anti-dote for what I consider to be the most damaging form of human behavior. There can be little doubt that many of the challenges facing human beings and South Africans in particular will be significantly reduced if we can heal the hurts of the past and eradicate current discriminatory practices based on differences in race, sex, class, age, religion, culture and many more.  Desmond Tutu made the statement “Without memory there is no healing and without forgiveness there is no future”. Seeking and finding peaceful solutions is a pressing demand not a casual choice. Valuing and nurturing human diversity is I believe the single most important need for both this country and our planet……this then is the spirit of our intent and my reason for continuing to present the discrimination experience for the past 20 years.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Transforming Ordinary Events into Extraordinary Occasions


Is your forthcoming conference, launch, indaba, wedding, party or reunion  in danger of being conventional, mundane, boring, more of the same and  devoid of any originality, essence and meaning?

Dr Bruce Copley the internationally acclaimed holistic edutainer and his talented associates masterfully transform any occasion or gathering into an extraordinary and unforgettable experience. This is achieved through their unique holistic approach that integrates state of the art equipment, cutting edge techniques and ancient light, fire, sound, colour, story, poetry, music, rhythm and nature practices and customs.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take,
but rather by the moments that take your breath away!



Thank you for making our wedding a very beautiful and unforgettable experience for us and all our guests....Dr Bernard Brom

"You crafted a magical mix of atmosphere and melody which effortlessly complemented the setting and proceedings of our wedding. Your enthusiasm for what we wanted, your willingness to search for what would work and your keenness to partake in the whole event were  a great gift to us.”…Mr  Malcolm Fair

Inviting you to bring your magic to my 40th birthday celebration proved to be a huge blessing for us all.  You are truly a master of your trade......Mr Heine Du Toit  

For further information contact Dr Bruce Copley on tel 083 459 9894  or bruce@aahalearning.com  or www.aahalearning.com