Time out for a demonstration of power without compassion.
I am reminded of the classic demonstration by an elementary school teacher, Jane Elliott, who taught her students the nature of prejuice and discrimination by arbitrarily relating the eye color of children in her classroom to high or low status. When those with blue eyes were associated with privilege, they readily assumed a dominant role over their brown-eyed peers, even abusing them verbally and physically. Moreover, their newly acquired status spilled over to enhance their cognitive functioning. When they were on top, the blue-eyes improved their daily math and spelling perfomances (statistically significant, as I document with Elliott’s original class data). Just as dramatically, test performance of the “inferior” brown-eyed children deteriorated.
However, the most brilliant aspect of her classroom demonstration with these third-grade schoolchildren from Riceville, Iowa, was the status reversal the teacher generated the next day. Mrs. Elliott told the class she had erred. In fact, the opposite was true, she said; brown eyes were better than blue eyes! Here was the chance for the brown- eyed children, who had experienced the negative impact of being discriminated against, to show compassion now that they were on top of the heap. The new test scores reversed the superior perfomance of the haves and diminished the perfomance of the have-nots. But what about the lesson of compassion? Did the newly elevated brown- eyes understand the pain of the underdog, of those less fortunate, of those in a position of inferiority that they had personally experienced one brief day earlier?
There was no carrryover at all! The brown- eyes gave what they got. They dominated, they discriminated, and they abused their former blue-eyed abusers. Similarly, history is filled with accounts showing that many of those escaping religious persecutions show intolerance of people of other religions once they are safe and secure in their new power domain.
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