John L. Terry, III - The Black Belt Leader
Bias. It's something we all have, and it is something we all have to live with. I like the color green. My wife prefers red. I drive a Camaro and she prefers an Equinox - but we both drive a Chevy. I'm into martial arts. My wife is into sewing and crafts. I've been a Dallas Cowboys fan my whole life. Three of my kids love the Patriots. My oldest son and I both enjoy motorcycles, as do two of my daughters. My wife can't stand them.
Bias. Opinion. Preference.
In ancient times, nomadic tribes would band together to protect themselves from outsiders - people who were different, and sometimes dangerous. That predisposition to being with people we know, like, and trust is something that is programmed into our thinking from the time we were little, and it has perpetuated for generations. The fear or mistrust of those not like us, because they look or act differently, is something that's been passed down for centuries and an innate part of human behavior development many cultures around the globe. For some, it's survival. For others, it has outgrown its usefulness but continues to be perpetuated as we are all creatures of habit.
Bias. Opinion. Preference.
We all have biases, opinions, preferences. These are what makes humanity interesting, diverse, and wonderful. It is our individual distinctiveness that makes us the amazing species that we are, and learning to appreciate and accept those differences, even when we may not agree, is where understanding and cooperation can take place.
But bias can also have a darker side. By definition, bias is a disproportionate weight IN FAVOR OF or AGAINST an idea or thing, usually in a way that is close-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Biases can be innate or learned. People develop biases for or against an individual, a group, or a belief. In science and engineering, a bias is a systematic error. (Wikipedia.com)
We've seen examples of prejudicial bias throughout human history. Races of all colors and creeds have been abused and enslaved at different times, and in parts of the world are still enslaved today. Nations and tribes have gone to war over sometimes trivial, insignificant events. At other times they have fought over land or resources, or for a cause believed worth championing.
The Babylonians fought the Persians, who fought the Greeks, who fought the Romans. These were early empirical battles in world history based on a bias of conquest. A close-minded belief that one group was better or greater than another, or that one group was destined to rule the known world, making all other creeds and cultures subservient to them.
The major religions of the world have been at odds, and even at war, throughout mankind's time on this planet. They have at times abused, and have been abused, by other religious groups - and at times they have also abused subsets within their own religion.
Bias. Opinion. Preference. Prejudice.
So how do we overcome bias? Or are we destined to be at continual odds with our fellow man the rest of our existence as a species on the earth?
The scientific community refers to bias as a systematic error. In other words, bias is wrong. Bias in a scientific study skews the results, eliminating objectivity from the study. When we approach a problem with a bias, we close our minds to ways of solving the problem that may be better than the method we're using now, or trying to prove is right.
An "I'm right and you are wrong" mindset is divisive and is not how you come together to truly solve a problem or address an issue. If you believe you are right, and everyone else is wrong, that's a bias. It's wrong. it's unhealthy. It is counterproductive to effective problem-solving, personal growth, and finding common ground upon which improvement can be achieved.
I've been working in the area of human behavior since 2007, and it is a fascinating field of study. One of the things we've learned about human behavior over the years is that many of our biases are learned behaviors. During the first 7-8 years of our lives, our brain lacks the ability to filter information as true or false, so the beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes of our family and other influential figures shape our observations, beliefs, behaviors, and our attitude. We learn from observing those around us.
Many of our biases are nothing more than programmed behavior engrained in our thinking by those who influenced us in our early, formative years. As a result, the environment we grew up in is perceived as "normal" and that forms the basis for our understanding of the world around us.
We don't see the world around us as it truly is. We see the world around us as we have been programmed to see it. That we can change.
But because many of our biases are learned, they can be unlearned.
One of my early introductions into the world of how to reprogram human behavior through personal
transformation was a book called "Love is Letting Go of Fear
" by Dr. Gerald Jampolsky. In this book, Dr. Jampolsky draws a parallel of the human mind as a movie vault of past experiences, which is constantly playing in the background. These memories filter our perception of what is really happening based on prior experience or our ingrained, learned behaviors.
Two of my favorite thoughts from this book are:
- People are never upset for the reason you think they are.
- I can escape the world I see by giving up attack thoughts.
We can lead ourselves well, and learn to overcome our own biases, by first recognizing we have them. We all have them. We are all imperfect people. We don't have it all together, we don't have all the answers, and we are all uniquely different. We all have different life experiences, different skillsets, and we can all learn from each other.
Secondly, we can overcome bias by genuinely listening to each other. Not yelling, cursing, or screaming at each other, but rather engaging in an uncomfortable exchange of ideas and an understanding we may have to agree to disagree. But it is in these moments of coming together to exchange ideas, to hear and discover another's perspective, that we can start to see the world through a different set of lenses.
Thirdly, we must be willing to change, to date, to grow, to become better. Reprogramming our thinking is a process. It doesn't happen overnight. But we can escape the world we see through our own bias filter by giving up attack thoughts against those we disagree with. We must instead focus on growing ourselves, becoming a better version of who we are, every single day...and treating one another as we would want them to treat us.
If we can all do that as individuals, treat one another with dignity and respect, and be willing to listen and learn, we can come together and achieve great things.
We'll never completely overcome bias. We all have our own preferences, and that's OK. That's what makes us unique as a species. Let us celebrate those differences, the things that make us distinct. After all, if we all looked, acted, and behaved the same way, and we all liked the same things, how boring would life be?
Overcoming bias starts when we stop living in fear and start living in love.