Unconscious bias is a life reality. We can’t escape from it. It does no good to deny it or to feel guilty or judgmental about it. It’s what our brains do that help us manage our lives and creates short cuts to make decisions.
The unconscious biases we have influence the way we see and treat people. For example, when I travel out of my home state, Iowa, and I meet someone from Iowa, there is an immediate positive reaction to that person. I’ve met someone from “home” who is like me. I feel a natural bond and connection to that person, and more so if they grew up on a farm, which I did.
On the other hand, some of our unconscious biases negatively impact others and situations. A personal example is my reaction to our daughter’s husband, DJ, the first time my wife and I met him. DJ is very short and when I met him, I immediately felt tension in my body and my mind began story telling that this man is not for my daughter. It affected my ability to be genuine with DJ. My negative reaction came from a judgment I made that DJ did not fit the profile of the husband for my daughter. This all happened within a few seconds.
When these incidents happen, it is vital to recognize what is going on inside ourselves. Why the negative reaction? Why is my body tensing up? Why can’t I be genuine in meeting someone?
A mindful response to this is to pause and be conscious of what you are feeling and thinking. Then, be ready for the guilt and judgmental waves of emotions that want to overtake you. “Oh my, I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” “I’m ashamed I feel this way.” “What’s wrong with me?” That’s what happened to me. By pausing, I focused on accepting what I was feeling without judgment, BUT recognizing I had some internal work to do later to come to terms with what happened. And then to realize my attention needed to be with my daughter and DJ, to be open to learn who he is, embrace him for who he is, and begin moving to acceptance.
The practices of mindful meditation in honing the skills of being attentive, aware and nonjudgmental will serve you well when those unconscious biases get triggered. I can speak from personal experience.
One of the consulting initiatives I’m engaged in is helping people minimize their unconscious bias in the workplace. I’ve partnered with a colleague offering seminars on this topic. We have an upcoming one scheduled for the greater Des Moines, Iowa area. Check it out at https://pokornyconsulting.com/upcoming-event/