It’s easy to avoid bigotry if you just remember that most of the time when our minds leap from the particular to the general, we are making an error in reasoning. Inductive reasoning, which goes from many, many particulars to the general, does not condone going from one or two particulars to the general.

One of the worst racial bigots I know is a man from Brooklyn who was badly beaten as a youth by three black hoodlums. Instead of recognizing that three individual hoodlums do not represent the whole, he has spent his life hating black people. Some black people, having had bad experiences with white individuals, spend their lives hating whites.

And so it goes with whatever group happens to be the target of the day. Bigotry is so persistent because it is the lazy way to cope with complexity. One doesn’t have to think, and most people find thinking a difficult and noxious task. It is so much easier to condemn a group than to evaluate individuals. It is so much easier to accept the pronouncements of demagogues than to do one’s own research.

Some of the worst people in our society today are encouraging bigotry toward Muslims. After all, didn’t 19 Muslims attack us on Sept. 11, 2001? Yes, but a billion other Muslims did not attack us, nor did they condone or support the attackers. Islam does not condone the murder of innocents, terrorism, torture or war except in self-defense. Neither does Christianity, yet we all know that not all Christians follow the rules of their religion, and so it is with some Muslims.

The truth is that the entire human race can be divided into two categories — the decent and the indecent. Some of both are in every single ethnic, racial or religious group. You might as well look at the homicide rate in America and conclude that all Americans are murderers as conclude that all Muslims are terrorists.

One of the banes of our republic has been the development of talk radio and talk television, sometimes mistakenly referred to as cable news. Some of these broadcast yahoos have condemned Muslims for not condemning the terrorists. This is unjust outrage. Muslim leaders have condemned the terrorists and do condemn the terrorists, only their condemnations are not reported by the same yahoos who complain of their alleged silence.

I have a number of Muslim friends, and they are not unlike Christians. Some are devout. Some show up only on holidays. But they are all fine people and fiercely patriotic Americans. I have never heard anyone condemn Osama bin Laden in harsher language than my Palestinian friends, who are contemptuous of his alleged support of Palestinian independence. They were so angry about the attack on the United States, some of them sputtered with rage.

Arabs, by the way, are a minority of the world’s Muslims, and not all Arabs are Muslim. Some are Christians. Christianity, after all, was born on the West Bank in Bethlehem. It would be as stupid to try to racially profile Muslims as it would be to racially profile Americans. We come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and so do Muslims. If he shaved his beard and moustache, Osama could easily pass for an American.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to know something, go to the source. If you want to know what communism is like, talk to people who lived under it. If you want to know about Islam, talk to Muslims. The great thing about America is that whatever country you want to know about, you can find people who were born there and lived there. Whatever subject you are interested in, you can find people who know it firsthand.

Don’t be a sheep. Don’t let demagogues, politicians and special interests herd you hither and yon for their hidden purposes. Use your public library. Use the Internet, and recognize that television is an unreliable source, especially those yahoos who have to yakety-yak for a living. They are celebrity talkers, not newspeople — though God knows, print journalism has its own faults.

Life is too short to hate, and public policy is too important to be based on fiction, imagination and propaganda. We have the capacity to be rational beings, but only if we have the will and are willing to learn how to think accurately. The world is complex, and none of us can afford to stop learning.

It really is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, and it is certainly better to add to the light of reason than to contribute to the darkness of ignorance and hate.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.