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Overcoming prejudice

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One of my most cherished theories is that public spaces offer people the opportunity to mix with those different from themselves and thus change some of their prejudices. As I start looking at some of the early results of the study that colleagues and I are doing at the beach near which I live in Sri Lanka, I am reminded that it is not quite that simple. Some people refuse to go to public spaces, others only go to ones where they are likely to be with those like themselves, and some find reasons to confirm their beliefs about others. Some of the people we interviewed complained about the fishermen’s shacks and boats along the beach, as if it should simply be a recreational area and the fishermen have no right to make a living, despite the fact that nobody complained of ever being hassled by a fisherman. Then again, every time I encounter a man in traditional Islamic dress who gives me a friendly smile, I am surprised. The fact that it is not easy to get people to change their fixed ideas about others and be receptive to new ideas simply means that we need more and better public spaces, not that they are not accomplishing that important objective!