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 understanding. Understand 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.