What Color Are Your Glasses
What Color Are Your Glasses
No matter what color your skin is and no matter what reproductive organs are concealed in your underwear, you’re a racist and a sexist — no exceptions. It doesn’t matter if you perceive yourself as oppressed, unappreciated, neglected, or abused — no excuses. Down in the deepest recesses of your soul, you harbor biases against everyone and everything that is even slightly different than you. So do I.
Now that you’re highly incensed and that extra squirt of adrenaline has your brain firing on all cylinders, let’s talk about it and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see some truth in that outlandish statement. First, with regard to your objection that I don’t know you well enough to make such an inflammatory statement, hear my defense. Exhibit One: you’re a human being. Exhibit Two: If your human ancestors (and mine) hadn’t been hardwired with a limbic impulse that told them “Different is Dangerous” and “Same is Safe”, they would have tried to pet that pretty green dinosaur and would have immediately become a tasty treat, thereby cutting short our lineage. Exhibit Three: You and I were born.
OK, you agree. Maybe your caveman ancestors were biased but “we’ve come a long way baby” and we’re civilized, sophisticated, sensitive, modern human beings who no longer pay attention to outdated impulses. Translation: we’ve gotten really good at lying to ourselves.
In his inciteful book, “Discrimination and Disparities”, author Thomas Sowell illustrates how the human habit of “sorting” has existed throughout history and still exists today. Even with myriad government housing regulations, big city neighborhoods still magically develop around ethnic similarities. Emigrants naturally congregate with other emigrants for the comfort of familiarity. School kids naturally migrate to groups of kids with their same interests and/or personality quirks. At the end of the day, it’s that eons-old limbic impulse running the show even though it’s doing so in a sneaky subliminal manner.
An Eye Opener
A few years ago, pastor Chris Lee of Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church (a black pastor in a decidedly white denomination) spoke to a business networking group I was involved with. He spoke on the subject of “Intrinsic Bias” and his timing was perfect. George Floyd had recently been killed by a policeman and video of that senseless act had gone viral. Consequently, almost every heart in America was open to discussing race issues. Moreover, the litany of riots, looting, and burning had not yet exploded onto the scene, putting a damper on our spirit of solidarity.
Pastor Lee asked the group a series of thoughtful questions that forced each of the hearers to reevaluate their own subjective internal biases. It was an incredible talk that made a far more lasting impact on my thinking than any of the numerous rants I’ve heard since or before.
But let’s set race on the back burner and pretend for a moment that we’re all enlightened creatures who’ve evolved to a point where we no longer see color. How about all those other issues? The test is simple: name three behaviors that irritate you in others. For most of us, it doesn’t take a long time to assemble that list. Analyzing our lists might just reveal some deeply camouflaged psychological leanings.
Do they talk too loud or make their points too forcefully. Do they dress too sloppy or wear too much jewelry? Do they flaunt their sexuality, their politics, their ethnicity, or their wealth? Does it irritate us that they’re just not the same as us? Does it irritate us that we’re not mature enough to totally ignore all that stuff and not be irritated in the first place? Does it irritate us that at the end of the day, we really aren’t as evolved as we thought we were?
Check Your Glasses
Like it or not, we’re ALL biased in one manner or another. We all see the world through tinted glasses and we all interpret life differently. A dozen of us can read the same story, listen to the same speaker, or experience the same event and each come away with a different interpretation based on our own subconscious biases.
Not one of those interpretations is completely accurate but taken as a group, they can combine to provide a balanced view. Perceived as twelve diverse but independent interpretations, they lead to a lack of consensus and ultimately to division and stagnation. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask any cop what happens when they interview multiple eye-witnesses to the same crime.
The Question That Counts
If you see things through your own set of biases and I see things through mine, how do we even begin to communicate honestly in order to bridge that gap? Our culture is currently the most divided it’s ever been since just prior to the Civil War. If we (that would be you personally and me personally) don’t quit ignoring the issue and start finding some ways to bridge not just the big gaps like race, religion, and politics, but the everyday differences that hinder our cooperation and mutual respect, two things are going to happen in short order. First, the organizations we all work for will begin to falter due to lack of focus. Second, once the degradation of those corporations begins to paralyze our economy, you better massage that limbic region of your brain back into action because we’re headed right back into the jungle.
So, what’s the answer? Hit that reply button and let’s talk about it, but don’t plan on it being a light conversation. The time for small talk has passed and the time for no-holds-barred, constructive confrontation has arrived. The only ground rules are mutual respect and the right to disagree. What are you waiting for?
“The extent to which two people in a relationship can bring up and resolve issues is a critical marker of the soundness of that relationship.”
― Henry Cloud
Good Reads. Even Better Listens.
Discrimination and Disparities
Sowell is not just an internationally-acclaimed economist — he’s a perceptive student of human behavior. This book, like many of his others, is an eye opener about the poorly founded assumptions we’ve all made and based our lives on. Sowell is not some self-aggrandizing college professor speaking from academic theory. He’s lived every issue he addresses.
Talking to Strangers
You might just be the world’s greatest communicator but that doesn’t mean your audience is hearing the same words you’re speaking. Gladwell takes a sobering look at why we aren’t communicating and what the consequences of that failure turn out to be. We’ve got to understand the problem before we can begin to fix the problem.