You see a black woman gunned down point blank as you are about to leave the store and walk to your car. Quick! What do you do? Do you assist her? What if you are a different race or gender? Would it matter? What if the victim shares all of your physical attributes, but the gunman is the opposite gender or race? Should they be given a harsher sentence when finally caught? Your response to these questions depends upon where you are at in your acceptance of death. Here is why.
Death makes anyone defensive and unopened to their own mortality. It is human nature. Unconsciously, we stabilize our fears and anxiety of death by building a strong wall of prejudice, bias, beliefs, and practices. By this we ward of death anxiety and supposedly keep it at bay.
Death is uglier than one could ever imagine when we factor in prejudice. If one is reminded of death and mortality, they naturally become more racist or prejudice. Take the results of a well respected study recently. White jurors hand out harsher penalties to blacks who commit a crime more so than with a white perpetrator. We all know about this bias. But we don’t know why it is this way. This study explains that people in general get defensive and intolerant of others when faced with their own mortality. Even if they are the picture of perfect health, when reminded of death via crime or otherwise, people automatically distance themselves from the anxiety of death by identifying any differences between ourselves and the victim and/or, if applicable, the perpetrator.
It’s a grudge match between humanity and death. However, it is reversible. How, you say? It’s simple. By being mindful, that is, open, receptive, and attentive, to our own mortality, we become less defensive and prejudice towards death happening to others. Moreover, we are less discriminatory to foreigners in our country, less supportive of harsher criminal penalties,and we are more receptive to those who have dissimilar world views.
People who are mindful of death are more diplomatic, spend more time writing about death, use words related to or are inclusive of death, and are more compassionate and fair. Death no longer holds a reign and power struggle over us.
It is interesting to note that recent studies have also indicated that for those who have better social support and larger family base, they fear dying more than those who do not have these resources. The reason is because, despite the likelihood of dying at home is decreasing each year, most people desire to die at home and with as much independence as possible. The hope and belief that they will be able to obtain this is strengthened with a large social support base. Being separated from that social support makes the anxiety of death even worse. The anxiety of death is the crux of the issue and must be lowered if at all possible.
There is a strong link between neonatal doctors fear of death and their ethical practices. The worse their fear death, the more likely they will hasten newborn death. So, knowing about your baby’s doctor’s view on death may be crucial if ever in that situation.
Lastly, if one lacks a good education, there is strong evidence that they will fear death more. Conversely, having a good education may lend them to pass away more comfortably and with less anxiety. This may be because of access to better insurance, health care, education on their illness, or more social support. It is estimated that 80% of school-age curriculum does not address death at all. If introduced into the classroom (with age appropriateness,of course), this would aid people in having less prejudice, bias, erroneous beliefs about death, and unnecessary avoidance and anxiety over death.