Reading time: 5 minutes

How natural is our suspicions and fearful attitudes towards strangers and their customs? What about entire societies, who view themselves through the lense of animosity? Are our differences and ignorance the culprits? These were some of the topics discussed at the most recent edition of MCC’s Transylvania Lectures, held in Kolozsvár/Cluj-Napoca on the 12th of April.

Our guest was Dr Farhad Dalal, British psychoanalyst and group analyst. His professional experience spans over three decades, during which he worked with individuals, groups and organisations as well. He is active both in the United Kingdom and internationally, working as an author, educator and lecturer. So far in his career he has published four books: Taking the Group Seriously, Race, Gender and the Process of Racialisation, Thought Paralysis: The Virtue of Discrimination, and CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Tsunami: Managerialism, Politics and the Corruption of Science. His partner in this discussion was Dr Anca Simionca, lecturer in the Sociology Department and vice-dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work at Babeș-Bolyai University.

Apart from the above-mentioned subject matters, Farhad Dalal and Anca Simionca also discussed the fact that human groupings don’t just occur in nature, but rather are created by the humans themselves. They also touched on how power relations influence the process of creation. Our guests were introduced by Balázs Kató, student of MCC’s University Program.

Farhad Dalal presented the audience with two different approaches at the top of the lecture, which represent the framework for his thesis. Firstly, he delved into the theory of multiculturalism, according to which humans reject those different from them due to their ignorance and their fear towards the other group. Multiculturalists say that we can get to a point of groups accepting each other through the medium of education – if we get to know and understand each other, we will no longer fear each other. We will realise that, though we are different, we are equal, together with all of our external and internal distinguishing factors. The multiculturalist approach sees the solution in the conscious education of individuals.

On the other side of the coin, the psychoanalytical approach sees the root of the problem in the psychological processes of humans. An individual experiences fear or anger (this can happen consciously, but more often than not, it is a subconscious event), and proceeds to project these negative feelings onto a person or a group that is unknown to them. They experience their anger and fear through another person, thus making it easier for themselves to label the other person as scary or dangerous – this theory explains personal animosity. The psychoanalytical approach recommends therapy as a solution, which would strive to change the individual’s subconscious thought processes.

Though Farhad Dalal agrees that both education and therapy are useful tools that could help to overcome prejudice and ill feeling between groups, he believes that the real root of the problem are power and power relations. We will achieve significant changes when we are able to change the current power dynamics of society. The expert says that there are similarities even between those individuals, who seemingly have nothing in common on the surface. Our reactions to the appearance of a new person is also highly dependent on our socioeconomic context: if we are alone at home and we hear a knock at the door, our emotional reactions can vary depending on our gender, age or location.

The desire to belong is natural in humans, however, the formation of groups is a manufactured process: we create the „us” and „them” groupings based on the similarities and differences we find between us and other people. Because we start from focusing on the negatives, the distance between the „us” and the „them” group increases with time, and we tend to see our own group as good, while we deem the others bad. If we notice a negative trait in someone, we tend to project this trait on the whole group the person belongs to – this is how stereotypes are born, and thus, we are able to label an entire nation as lazy, dumb or dangerous.

Though initially group formation is based mostly on intuition, later on groups become real psychosocial structures, which influence our world views. For example, while a soldier who fights on our side is described as a brave hero, the soldiers of the opposite team are seen as murderers and aggressors. We always portray our group in a positive light, trivialising our negative traits, while we do the exact opposite with the other group and its members. The group in power controls the flow of information, and thus, is able to create a new psychological reality. „Members of the oppressed group will start to internalise the negative traits pushed upon them by the group in power, thus further empowering those on top”, added the expert.

When asked about what we can do to achieve peace and understanding between groups, Farhad Dalal answered that we would need to reform the establishment who currently holds all the power in their hands, he sees speaking up and activism as the solution. Those on top might say that they agree with the sentiments of multiculturalism and liberalism, but in reality, they don’t have any intention to give up or even share their power and influence. He also encourages individuals to take part in international exchange programs, since these help us to experience the diversity of the world, and – in some cases – even discrimination on a personal level.

During his visit to Transylvania, Dr Farhad Dalal discussed these topics at further events at Csíkszereda/Miercurea Ciuc with Dr Orsolya Gergely, sociologist and lecturer at Sapientia University, as well as at Sepsiszentgyörgy/Sfântu Gheorghe with Ildikó Knop, monitoring expert at Sepsi Local Action Group.