There’s been a lot of talk recently about all the “isms.” Depending on your race or religion, your politics or your profession, your gender or your education, and any number of other traits, there is bias — real or perceived — that can be leveled against you or against others.
Even hair color, age, where you were born, or the community you live in can be the cause of a sort of knee-jerk reaction that isn’t based on facts or in-depth knowledge. That reaction can be favorable or unfavorable. It’s important to remember that bias is not necessarily a reaction against someone or something; it can just as easily skew the odds in favor of a particular person or event.
You can even have a bias against broccoli or tapioca pudding; but that’s not what I’m talking about here!
Bias is always unfair. Some of it is inflated and misrepresented. Some of it is real. Some of it is unconscious, but bias too often turns into hostility. Without a basis in rational thought, reasonable opinion and actual experience, it becomes dangerous.
No matter what the “ism,” it represents stinking thinking, and it always gets in the way. Our biases color our personal relationships and our public perception, the ways we perceive other people and the way co-workers, neighbors, friends and casual acquaintances interact with us.
It’s a shame, because sometimes we don’t even realize it. Neither do those others.
No matter how we view ourselves personally, every one of us is shaped by our experiences and our environment. We were reared by imperfect humans, and influenced by learning situations that affected us in unique ways. Many of our beliefs and actions are deeply ingrained in our childhood experience. As adults, we don’t often take the time to analyze our feelings and our reactions.
But we should.
The recent media attention serves as a wake up call for most of us.
We can brush off charges of biased thinking with our own countercharges of being “thin-skinned.” We can react with a “Get over it” statement. But those responses often don’t get us anywhere, and typically just add to the hurt and misunderstanding.
A better response would be to reevaluate what we say and what we do in light of other people’s reactions. It’s seriously worth the time and effort. Remove the stinking thinking and get down to the business of building relationships that matter — in your personal life, in your business dealings, with your friends and especially with those you disagree with.
Not only will it make the world a less contentious, more pleasant place, but it will allow us to grow our sensitivity, to become more caring, to earn respect and to treat others with the understanding they crave and deserve.
Identify Your Biases and Move On
Here are some ideas for confronting your biases head on, and for eliminating them in short order:
- Never speak in generalities about a group of people. There is no reason to hold on to a “them vs. us” mentality. Treat everyone as a unique individual.
- Recognize that everyone — EVERYONE — is both strong and weak, good and bad, reasonable and totally unreasonable, serious and silly, lazy and energetic, beautiful and ugly — all at the same time and alternately at different times.
- Don’t group people according to how they dress, where they work, where they were born, how they speak, what school they attended, how much they earn, whether they’re married or single, college graduates or high school dropouts: Those things don’t define a person’s worth, and should not be used as measuring sticks.
- Listen — really listen — when you meet someone new. Learn about what they think, how they feel, what they like and the things that they fear. What you’ll find, as Maya Angelou noted, is that “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
- Stand up for principles that you believe in, but have good reasons for those beliefs. It’s not a sin to question your beliefs, either. In fact, it’s an exercise that more of us should engage in. It will either change you and eliminate your stinking thinking, or confirm your position and give you good reason to continue to express and defend it.
- Never do, say, or think anything simply because everyone you hang out with does, says or thinks the same. Be yourself; make up your own mind about issues and hold fast to things you know are right for you, no matter what!
It’s true that old habits die hard. Confronting your biases is difficult. But removing them will lighten your heart and fill your future with new opportunities — to make friends, to understand the world in a new light, to achieve more in your career, to really act like an adult. Getting beyond unconscious bias requires constant attention, but it opens your thinking to new ideas.
It’s like the dawn of a new day!