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.

An Amazing Country

I spent Election Day volunteering in Virginia, after voting in Maryland around 8:30 am. It was a cheerful crowd of neighbors, many of them friends. Our election judge told us that folks began to line up as early as 4:30 am for a 7:00 am opening. I see so much passion about voting this time around, I can’t wait to see the numbers on voter turnout.

After checking in at the Alexandria Headquarters I was sent on a few errands before a bus with fourteen people from DC arrived. My job was to follow them to  a nearby neighborhood field office and then take a few teams of two out for Get Out The Vote canvassing.  The field office was in a spacious home where every room was filled with busy staff, family and volunteers. After a thorough briefing on GOTV canvassing, we were treated to lunch, split into teams and sent out to knock on doors.

It was a bright and lovely day for the job. We were canvassing in an outer suburb, crowded with newish town homes. For a few hours we went door-to-door in pairs, hoping to talk to folks, but leaving a sticky reminder note if no one answered. Young parents, seniors and a few other adults were home, and most had already voted.  Spirits were high. But there were a few folks that I know went to vote because we came along to encourage them.

I didn’t put all the details together until we were heading back to the field office. Our DC volunteers were homeless men, and many of them veterans. All day we were talking to people of diverse persuasions. There were seniors and disabled volunteers on the phones. An entire family with a big house welcomed people without homes, and we all worked together. This didn’t just look like America, it was America.

I am so proud of my country, and it is an amazing feeling.