Am I Biased?
. . . And how would I know?
[NOTE TO MY FRIENDS WHO LIKE COLORS AND ACTION BITS: That part is further down!]
Since we become who we are in specifically flavored arenas - country, culture, class, tribe, family, habits, teachings, religion, climate, food, education, exposure to others and on and on. . . so very many pieces of the puzzle make up who we come to identify as . . . How do we know when our beleifs and feelings are "true" or parts of a biased beleif structure? Most of us assume that "we are who we are" and that our views are based in "truth", "rightness" and/or our own "objective observations" of our experiences in the world. . . and are therefore "the way things are". But is this true?
I believe that the majority of us live in a dualistic reality; one in which on one level we embrace our own views as grounded, realistic truth - - and another level on which we are aware that our views - as well as everyone else's - are subjective; based on or influenced by personal tastes, viewpoints and most of all our life experiences.
The question arises, then, how could we know when our thinking or beliefs are biased on or in any given topic or situation? And further, how might we correct our biases when they often run so deep we feel them not only in our thoughts and emotions, but in our bodies?
Dr. Toby Atkins (of Community Health and Counseling Services, Maine) and I recently had the privilege of hosting the third of a series of workshops on Integrating Spirituality in Healthcare. Our focus in this meeting (for those who were not in attendance) was the topic of Bias; as health care workers, we want to make sure that we are treating all our patients in as loving a way as possible. Our staff want to do the work of recognizing and transforming our biases. I think ultimately all huam beings would like to be seen and cared for with equal compassion. How do we get there in a world so full of reasons to judge and hold grudge?
One of our brilliant doctors present at the session brought up an issue of most importance. She shared that she had been to many trainings on biases, and, unfortunately, while they seem well-intended and even well attended, the trainings do not seem to generate CHANGE in the actual beliefs and behavior of those who take the trainings. To me, this is a monumentally troubling note. The obvious question needing attention is:
Why is this so?
While I am no statistics expert, from my own experience in both learning for myself and training others, I believe bias training failure is due to a slightly misguided focus in bias training programs. Only time will tell if I am correct, but here is what I think; Most bias trainings focus on the THINGS WE HAVE BIASES TOWARD. That is, trainings attempt to offer us new information that may "change our minds" on topics we may have felt one way about, hoping that new facts, numbers, outcomes and intellectual exposure etc. may give us enough information that we will no longer shun whomever or whatever we previously shunned.
Yet even the most compelling facts do not seem to have effect when biases - implicit or otherwise - are in play; ". . . conventional training isn’t working, research suggests. In a 2019 meta-analysis of more than 490 studies involving some 80,000 people, the psychologist Patrick Forscher and his colleagues found that UB training did not change biased behavior." (Note, in writing this post, I googled "when Bias Training doesn't work", and found this terrific Harvard Business Review article on the topic, affirming my own findings. You can take a look via the link at the end of this blog post)**
That article (link at the bottom of this post) goes on to affirm what I have seen and believe; that bias training must offer more than a litany of what is wrong with biased views and which new views participants "should" embrace. A true change can only be made when we have not only the willingness, but the tools with which to A). Recognize our biases, B). Understand how we came by them and the depth to which they go within our being (are they thoughts and ideas we have misguidedly come to believe but can change with simply learing new information - - and this is what many bias trainings have been based on - - or are they emotionally embedded, and set off triggers for us that are likely linked to much deeper, familial or cultural membership; or could they arise from an even more difficult place within us - the somatic, or body-deep, neuropathways in the brain which may take special tools or even assistance from outside help to heal and transform??) and C). Ongoing, guided exposure to and interaction with real individuals from the group one has held biases against.
With the tools of observation-skills, guided-de-and-reconstruction and interactive exposure, biases can - and as I and others have seen - actually generate change. We are speaking, of course, in the realm of psychology, psychological healing and growth - and if we go deeper on the same strata, we are going to need to discuss the neuroscience of the matter - the fact that the brain has this fantastic neuroplasticity and CAN CHANGE, with the right tools in hand. . . . so, lets look for a moment at what those tools might be. . .
We know that the skills of self observation, introspection and an ability to see ones' self with a degree of objectivity are necessary. We know that assistance from the outside - whether in the form of research or conversation with those holding different information - is necessary. We know that guided exposure to and day to day interaction with the folks we have held biases towards is required. We also know that the level of depth of our bias needs tending to (again, mental bias is thought based - requires new ideas; emotional bias is feeling-based - requires personal review, often deep processing; somatic or body-deep bias - likely requiring a trained professional assisting us with somatic healing techniques to unearth the roots of what may currently manifest as a visceral experience of dread, as in PTSD)
If the goal is for each of us to transform our biases, how on Earth to we embark on what seems like such a time-consuming, overwhelming task?
I am aware that after reading all this, finding, facing and undoing our biases sounds like pretty exhaustingly daunting focus. But fear not - the beginning is so much simpler than all of what you have read so far! There is a thing we can ALL start with, regardless of how big or little our work ahead may be. Here is a fact that takes NO change to embrace - you can engage with this truth no matter where you are on your journey. Even if you do not wish to change your bias towrds a particular group, you can engage in this exercise for your own well-being!!
It is this:
NO HEALING TAKES PLACE WITHOUT A SENSE OF SAFETY AND ACCEPTANCE OF ALL OF WHO AND WHAT WE ARE, RIGHT NOW, IN THIS VERY MOMENT.
Before we go further, I will offer a little blurb on what, in psychology, is known as
UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD.
You will need this info, because I am going to ask you to conjure it towards a formidable enemy. . .
What is Unconditional Positive Regard?
Unconditional Positive Regard is a concept first shared by Stanley Standal (PhD psychology) in 1954, but promoted by psychologist Carl Rogers, is defined by humanistic psychologists as:
Experiencing and expressing empathy, support, and acceptance for and to someone, regardless of what they say or do.
I will prepeat that last bit, because . . . did you truly hear it?
. . . regardless of what they say or do.
Unconditional Positive Regard emphasizes the healing power of human connection and emphasizes that problematic behaviors like overeating, drinking too much, and procrastinating (or whatever other things we believe need changing) aren’t altered with confrontation, judgment, or punishment; they are remedied with compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
The theory holds that people are wired for self-actualization, or the need to fulfill our potential, yet painful experiences like being bullied, shamed, or judged thwart our growth. Unconditional positive regard restores hope by showing us we are loved and accepted. Through this lens, when people feel safe, honesty – and courage to face it - follows. Being honest with ourselves and others is central to the change, growth, acceptance and the “life harvesting” that is needed in order to find fulfillment throughout our lives. When we hold ourselves or another in Unconditional Positive Regard, we offer a space of unfoldment many of us may have had very little of in our lives.
Without Unconditional Positive Regard, change and healing are far distant friends.
No change without U.P.R.?
This means that your first task, no matter what else is true, is to begin with accepting that most formidable (as I mentioned above) enemy; can you guess who that is? It is yourself - and at first, thank goodness, this does NOT entail changing anything!
Here are some steps you can take, if and when you are ready.
Are you ready?
Here you go:
Remind (if you already know this) or teach (if it is new to you) your good, changeable brain this: Mending bias begins within. The nurturing of Unconditional Positive Regard begins within us. If there is any place inside us that we do not hold in compassion, it will be difficult to face another that in any way mirrors that aspect of ourselves.
IF YOU ARE WORKING ON LOVING YOURSELF, YOU ARE DOING THE FIRST AND DEEPEST STEPS IN MENDING BIAS.
And for this I thank you and honor you.
This work is harder than it looks.
Actively choosing to love the unlovable within you teaches your whole self how to love others, no matter what your judgements may be - they will soften. When we can offer ourselves Unconditional Positive Regard, we begin to know instinctively how to offer it to all those we encounter. And when we do, we make space for healing for all.
My big point here is this: We could all, always, use more positive regard; it is how we become better humans.
A special thank you to all of you who made it through this entire post!
And to all of you who are doing the work; LOVE is not easy, it is a warrior's task and my bias is that any who do not acknowledge this have not yet encountered or conjured the courage to have risen to the task.
Blessed Loving, Friends.
Live, and Die, Heartfully. (In the end, what else have we?)
Warmly and as Always,
**Read the full article here: Harvard Business Review
Here are two short videos on the topic. . .
Heartwarming short on human differences:
All of Us, an award-winning video from our Unconscious Bias course
Powerful short film on bias – can you witness your own bias as you watch?
Stranger at the Gate | 2023 Oscar-Nominated Short | The New Yorker Documentary
PROJECT IMPLICIT - Might You Have Biases You Are Unaware Of?
The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on human biases.
PROJECT IMPLICIT, begun in 1998 and officially launched in 2011, is (from their website) “non-profit organization and international collaborative of researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition.
They offer a whole pile of tests you can take to assess your own biases and learn more about biases in general. Also from their site
“People don’t always say what’s on their minds. One reason is that they are unwilling. For example, someone might report smoking a pack of cigarettes per day because they are embarrassed to admit that they smoke two. Another reason is that they are unable. A smoker might truly believe that she smokes a pack a day, or might not keep track at all. The difference between being unwilling and unable is the difference between purposely hiding something from someone and unknowingly hiding something from yourself.
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science.”
Disability, Transgender, Gender – Career, Race 'Black - White', Asian American, Jewish, Hispanic American, Native American, Arab-Muslim, Weapons, Gender – Science, Weight, Presidents, Sexuality, Age, Skin-tone, Religion.
FUN WITH TESTS - TRY ONE!
The Implicit Association (Bias) Tests:
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Rev. Maya Massar