To Stand Under

How do we learn to live with people who aren’t like us?

Mahzarin Benaji researches unconscious bias at Harvard. She discussed her fascinating and important research  this week on the podcast On Being.

Dr. Benaji uses the word “implicit” instead of “unconscious,” because of

“the implication that the unconscious is this incredibly motivated, smart process that is constantly trying to do things that are in my interest and shove away the deep dark secrets of my childhood that I don’t wish to remember. And the science has not produced good evidence for that.”

Her book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People asks the question:

“‘Are you the good person you yourself want to be?’ And the answer to that is no, you’re not. And that’s just a fact. And we need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement.”

 

Who is ‘Other’?

According to Dr. Benaji’s findings, distrusting the ‘other’ has provided, until recently, an evolutionary advantage: discernment about who to embrace into one’s community was a useful filter in an agrarian culture.

But in today’s global world, this inner program doesn’t serve us when we are, for instance, hiring someone, or choosing the best candidate for a program. Someone who looks and speaks in strange-to-us ways is quite often the best choice. Yet those who haven’t experienced multiple cultures in a community like a university, urban life or the workplace still operate from this ancient, implicit view. This might explain some of the Trump phenomenon.

Apparently without direct experience of ‘others.’ we are not inclined to consider their humanness. In the wake of the horrifying Orlando shooting, teaching tolerance is clearly an urgent need.

Instead of the word tolerance Dr. Benaji prefers the word understandingUnderstand comes from Old English and is literally stand, read as viewpoint, and under meaning beneath or unconscious.

You are the Unreliable Narrator!

For an example of how unreliable our automatic perception can be, have a look at the Selective Attention Test video. If you haven’t already, watch the vid and follow the instructions carefully.

Are you willing to challenge your automatic assumptions?

Please share your insight!

Thanks to Univ. of Haifa School of Social Work for the header image.

One thought on “To Stand Under”

  1. a relevant quote from Rob Brezny’s Pronoia:
    “I consistently see people react to ideas about pronoia with anger and bile — pissed off that I have the temerity to suggest that life is a great
    blessing. They are deeply committed to the idea that life is mostly just a
    terrible ordeal.

    In the course of trying to understand this attitude, I have come across a
    lot of evidence that the brain is indeed hard-wired to overemphasize
    negativity. The articles I cite below are just some of many sources
    suggesting this.

    My point in bringing it up is to reinforce what I say in my book: It takes
    hard work to cultivate the pronoiac frame of mind.”

    Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.”
    http://tinyurl.com/yfzlzu2

    The brain is hard-wired to be negative:
    http://tinyurl.com/d947mcc

    We may be hard-wired for bad news.
    http://tinyurl.com/9ht9o9k

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