Did you think I was finished with unconscious bias books? You’d be almost right. I just have this one more book to talk about before I move on to books about diversity and inclusion. Totally different, yep. This one’s really good, though, even though it talks about many of the same topics as the previous books did. Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in our Daily Lives (updated edition), by Howard J. Ross (2020) is guaranteed to get you thinking, challenge you, and to my immense relief, offer some hope for humanity.
I really like the “voice” of Ross, which shines through all the book’s content. You feel like you’re right there with him figuring out that we’re all acting on our biases 24/7 and that’s just the way we are built. He shares lots of data about our friend, the amygdala, and how it’s apt to put us on autopilot any time something stressful or scary happens. And he notes that we can’t make that thing stop!
Ross also reminds us that we can’t exactly help where we were born, in what community, and to which parents. All of these things get us wired in certain ways that we can’t control. I like that he declares it a waste of time to constantly apologize for being biased or to poke at people for having them. His best point in the whole book is that by constantly reminding people of the harm their biases causes others (like women telling men how they’ve been harmed, black people saying the many ways white culture has affected them) we aren’t going to make things better. The reverse is often the case, and can perhaps explain all the racist and sexist groups we are hearing from more and more these days.
I think it’s true that some folks are just going to continue on their merry ways with their biases against certain other people and groups, and there’s not much we can do about it. No one’s immune, so we are just gonna have Jews who are biased against blacks, gays who dislike Muslims, or so on and so on. No group of humans is without us versus them ingrained in us, because it’s normal.
Luckily, Ross reminds us of neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to change. He then spends the last part of the book providing clear, helpful ideas for working to mitigate the effects of our bias in the workplace and in our personal lives. He gives great information on six things to work on in Chapter 7:
- Recognize that bias is a normal part of human existence. (Stop judging others so much and work on your own self. I have a few super-judgy trolls in groups I maintain that need this.)
- Develop a capacity for self-observation. (It turns out that relaxing, meditation, etc., can calm that amygdala right down and let you think about your thinking.)
- Practice constructive uncertainty. (Stop to figure out WHY you have a strong reaction to something.)
- Explore awkwardness and discomfort. (Figure out your triggers.)
- Engage with people in groups you may not know very well, or about whom you may harbor biases. (Get to know an Other!)
- Get feedback and data. (Facts!)
In the next chapter, he lists eight ways to work on eliminating bias in hiring, promotions, and that sort of thing in businesses. It’s quite helpful.
And finally, what warmed my heart is that Ross truly feels that if we pay attention to our biases, we can create a better world. He talks about how what appear to be groves of individual trees are in reality one big, connected organism (as I’ve read before), and uses it as a metaphor for people:
We look at the “other” as if he or she is separate from us. We see the other group as a threat. And yet, we are all deeply connected. We share a common destiny on this planet. We all seek pleasure and do our best to avoid pain. We all want what is best for our children and grandchildren. All of us are the products of that which we have seen before. And we are all (for the most part), unconscious about the “programming” that runs our thoughts and our lives.
We can transcend. We can, through discipline, practice, and awareness, find a new way to relate that honors our differences yet also builds upon our similarities.Howard J Ross, p. 148
I think he finally put into words all the reasons why I have been so doggedly introspective for the past few years. I want to GET THERE NOW and do my part to fix some of my ingrained biases. It’s not possible to know all that’s going on in our busy brains, but with at least some of us trying to raise awareness of some of our areas of bias, it’s a start.
Fine book. Made me feel empowered.