Overcoming bias starts with recognizing the cause

Bias is learned. It is not native to to any race or species. We learn bias as a babe in our mother’s arms. Every conversation with comments like, "No wonder she’s a drunk, she’s a Murphy, for Gods sake!" gives us data on Murphys that we are in no position to evaluate.

The fact that we are Callahans or St Lawrences with our own collection of heavy drinkers never gets mentioned.

Similarly, we acquire stereotypical attitudes towards other races and other sexes through the constant repetition of these negative attitudes throughout our childhood and early life. These comments can be overt or subtle, but the effect is the same. They build up contempt, fear, or hatred concerning the topic of discussion.

The unfortunate result of this unseen education is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many people.

If you are conditioned from birth to fear men, or to have contempt for members of a certain race, or to hate mambers of a certain political party, your first contacts with those people will probably be catastrophic. Your anti-social attitude will not encourage them to treat you as an equal or even as a normal human being. The resulting conflict will reinforce your original biased viewpoint.

Most importantly, this education is invisible to those of you who have absorbed these anti-social values. You will "know" with great certainty that children should be seen and not heard, women do not make great leaders, older people are poor employees, and a great many races are out to get you.

Let us say that you are not one of these people, and your task is to talk to one of these people about something important, like a job, or a loan, or a business proposition. When you are in a situation where you have to get through to one of these people, your only hope is to impinge on them to the point where they actually hear you.

This is easier said than done. Their ingrained prejudice acts as a filter to screen out anything other than what they are expecting you to say. Here are some common examples:

Any woman who has had the unfortunate task of talking business to a courtly southern gentleman has experienced something like this: "Come in Sugar. Just what is on your pretty little mind?"

If you are an older job candidate, you may get asked for the year you graduated from high school, rather than details of your recent job experinece. Discussion of teams formed and projects run are ignored by the interviwer as ancient history. An older job candidate feels like they shuffled in with a cane when talking to one of these interviewers.

A parent with a grown child hears, "Can I have money for a toy?" instead of the sound business advice the son (or daughter) is presenting. Any message that Junior is delivering is lost because the parent has a stuck mental image of Junior as a twelve-year-old with a broken bicycle and muddy pants.

There a thousands of different situations where unseen barriers prevent open communication. The only way these barriers get breached is through open and honest communication.

I will take up how that is done in a future post.

Meanwhile, you might wish to add your own observations of biased behavior.

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