Earlier this week, I attended a youth event that sought to encourage young people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to be more civically engaged. One of the speakers raised the issue of unconscious bias, that is to say, the tendency in all of us to prejudge people, based on appearances and the particular stereotypes we carry in our minds, generally, without being conscious about it.
Indeed, our mind has a tendency to make snap judgements about people. That itself is merely the human experience of interacting in real time with the real world. But the interesting question here is: how big of a gap is there between our positive conscious affirmations and our negative unconscious biases?
We often like to believe that we are defined by our intentions. To a certain extent, that is probably true. However, as history has consistently shown us; the best of intentions can nonetheless produce prejudice and lead to harmful actions and results.
As a result, we should therefore seek to sharpen our ability to exert a certain level of awareness and “quality control” onto the way we interpret our relations and determine our interactions in society.
In order to do so, my belief is that a greater awareness of our privileges, will lead to a greater awareness of our biases, and that correspondingly; unawareness of our privileges IS what often leads to us having the corresponding biases that result from them.
For example, we can imagine the personality-type of financially privileged individuals (particularly those who deny that their financial situation, is, a privilege at all, for they feel they have earned it entirely...), who often may have a tendency to make certain assumptions about people who are financially struggling? ie. “Perhaps they don’t work as hard as they could?”
Or members of a predominant ethno-cultural group, who would make certain assumptions about minority ethno-cultural groups in the form of: “They don’t want to integrate into “our” culture because they won’t speak our language or dress like us.”
When it comes to privileges, it seems to me that the core issue isn't so much in one person having a privilege, as it is in that person being "unaware" that they have it.
In any case, the human mind is a complex system, of which we often have only a birds eye view.
That is why a practice that helps to bridge the gap between who we aspire to be, and who we actually are, is so essential if we are to find true harmony between ourselves and the world around us.
A blend of proactive experiences that take us out of our comfort zone (and henceforth; into awareness of our privileges) and tranquil observation can help achieve this.
The capacity to introspect deeply through various mindfulness practices, allows our aerial self to land on the ground, next to the subject of our attention, and to interact directly, face-to-face with it.
Then perhaps, we should fly again, reach our comfortable skies, and observe more contemplatively, but with enriched experience and wisdom under our wings.
Originally posted on January 21st 2019