Unconscious Bias? Just Ask Marcus Aurelius

My spouse, Lee, has been studying Stoicism for the past year or two. He really enjoys The Daily Stoic podcast, by Ryan Holiday, who happens to be my boss’s best friend. Small world! Who knew? Holiday has a new book of meditations out, with new translations of the Stoics into modern English by Stephen Hanselman. Of course, Lee’s enjoying it greatly. He even got a special journal to record his own thoughts. That man LOVES to journal almost as much as I love to blog!

So, the passage for yesterday was:

Do away with the opinion I am harmed, and the harm is cast away, too. Do away with being harmed, and harm disappears.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.7, as quoted in The Daily Stoic, p. 119.

This is one of those topics we linguists love, especially those of us, like me, who are enamored of pragmatics. Not only do words have different meanings in different contexts, but tone of voice and intention can also change meanings. PLUS, the person hearing the words will interpret what is said through their filters. The same sentence with the same intonation can engender a hearty laugh or a world of hurt, depending on how it’s taken.

You have to like a guy who was a good horseman. From Britannica.

Assuming good intent is what it boils down to, right? It’s just like with the Little Free Library story yesterday! Susan could have interpreted the stolen books as an act of aggression or malice, but she instead chose to interpret it as a cry for help. I often find myself interpreting comments that could be taken as mean or passive aggressive as being the result of some issue I have no clue about. Thus, I do away with the harm, and it’s gone. Easier said than done sometimes, I must admit.

Continue reading “Unconscious Bias? Just Ask Marcus Aurelius”

The Unpopular Kid at School

That’s who I feel like this morning. We invited a lot of people to join a book club on unconscious bias at work. There are two meetings, one early and one at mid day, so people in different time zones can attend. There were at least ten people who accepted, were tentative, or hoped to show up. It’s halfway through the meeting, and the only thing I see on Zoom is darned familiar looking.

That sure looks like me.

It sure is easy to fall into old patterns, insecurities, and negative self talk. Luckily, it didn’t last too long. I’m mature enough to know that people were busy, or they are too uncomfortable with unconscious bias to want to talk about it (very likely), or they forgot. I’m not the center of the universe, after all. I think I’m over somewhere near the edge, to be honest. Still, I have lots of other stuff to do besides Zoom, so it was irritating to have to just sit there and try to look cheerful, in case anyone showed up.

Ah well. I’ll end the meeting and see if anyone shows up at noon! I think some of the more interested people are on the West Coast, and by all rights they should still be asleep!

Time Marches On

Since I wrote the above, I’ve received a lot of kind feedback, most of which says it’s hard to get people to show up to book clubs at all. I think the only reason we had a good group at our previous work one is that we started pre-pandemic in person. The other reality is that unconscious bias is a difficult topic that many people might be reluctant to discuss. That’s valid.

Our learning and development group came up with some other ideas for discussion that aren’t book clubs, so we’ll try those, too. We just know people need a chance to talk about workplace concerns AND get to know each other, so we’re going to keep trying!

Hooray!

We had a great discussion at the second book club meeting! The West Coast contingent did show up! So glad I was patient. I enjoy facilitating meetings so much. It’s probably what I would do for a living if the introvert part of me didn’t get so darned exhausted from it. I truly get a LOT from hearing what other people think, and it always gets me thinking more. I’m going to really enjoy our unconscious bias book club! We’re reading The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias, which has so many good questions to talk about!

Curbing Your Anti-racist Enthusiasm

Wait, wait, I’m not going to tell anyone not to continue in their work to fight racism, point it out when they see it, or work on their own behavior and bias with regard to race. Nope, nope, that’s not where I’m going. But, I do want to share some insights I’ve been having as I watch discussions about race happening, and how the books I’ve recently been reading cause me to see them differently.

Here’s a very passionate young person I do my best to learn from.

The material I’ve been reading on unconscious bias has made it clear that, thanks to growing up in a particular society at a particular time, each of us presents ourselves to the world through the lens of our own biases, some of which are helpful and some of which may be less so. A good thing I’ve read is that the people born more recently may well be less prone to some of the racial biases that older people may have grown up with. A large percentage of younger adults in the US grew up in diverse neighborhoods, attended diverse schools, and are familiar with a wider range of US cultures (most young people I know are fans of music from urban, African, Caribbean, Latino, Korean, Indian and other artists), and have friends and colleagues from highly diverse backgrounds. So, they have a different set of biases from older Americans.

People my kids’ age tend to make friends based on common interests and experiences. This often leads to racially diverse friends with strong bonds in other areas. (Some don’t; I over-generalize.) Photo by @SBphoto via Twenty20.

I am very happy about this, and very interested in learning from people of my children’s generation. Sometimes it’s hard, though, because in their anti-racist enthusiasm they push their audience away.

Another fact about a large subset of younger adults is that their preferred methods of interacting with others tend to be more confrontational, less “polite,” and less patient when sharing their views with others (not implying only young people act this way, it’s more appropriate in some cultures, too). This is the part that causes communication problems with people who grew up avoiding confrontation, focusing on polite behavior, and a conversation style that includes acknowledging the potential validity of the other person’s point of view. Neither of these ways of interacting is all right or all wrong; there are issues with each one, which I’m going to let you think of for yourselves.

Admirably, many people in the 18-30-ish age group want to create a better society and are working hard toward those goals. They feel passionate about the rights of people of color, LGBTQ+, poor people, and the oppressed around the world. Yay for them! Those are goals shared by many older people, too, though their methods of working toward it are different, and often unpopular with younger folks (which is fine and normal; I’m not complaining, just noticing).

The thing is, I’m wondering what the goals the young and fervent activists are working toward might be.

  • Are they trying to change people’s minds? I wonder if calling people you don’t know racist for actions you don’t even know that they’ve done is terribly helpful (for example, I have been sitting back and watching a woman lecturing an obviously white woman about how race and racism work, blissfully unaware (or not listening hard enough to realize) that the second woman has a black husband and family members). It’s racist to assume someone has beliefs because of their looks, period. And yes, being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you have no bias and can shut down conversation (sorry if I’m not clear about this; I’m still learning).
  • Are they trying to prove how ethically advanced and modern they are? In this case, demonstrating that you’re a passionate anti-racist while bullying and insulting others shows ALL your ethics, quite clearly.
  • Are they trying to sow unity? Are they trying to add to divisiveness? These are my big questions. I’ve been observing people pick at others for not being non-racist in the “right” way (say, for adopting a child of another race, without knowing whether a white adoptive parent may have a black or Asian partner or other black or Asian children). It reminds me of one branch of a religion not saying another branch is Christian enough, or Muslim enough, or the right kind of Buddhist, without remembering they all are focused on the same overall goal, which is love.

This is why I wish more of us knew HOW our unconscious biases work, and that none of us is above them or immune to them. I see a lot of bias against older people in the passionate younger folks. That’s too bad, since when I was a young, passionate feminist, I learned a LOT from the women who’d gone before me, which helped me not repeat some mistakes and not burn some bridges. Perhaps some of us older folks might have useful insights, if we could share our perspectives without being silenced or labeled.

I know I harp on this message. It’s because I think the ONLY way we can make a better world is to listen to each other, maybe even respectfully.

And some of us elders want to silence and label younger folks. None of that is helpful, because the one thing I’ve learned is that the best way to limit the effects of unconscious bias is to get to know members of the groups you may have trouble with. Spending quality time in conversation and interaction with the “other” is guaranteed to help all of us realize that “they” are not a monolithic group, but diverse, varied, and interesting. Not all elderly people are the stereotypical MAGA-hat wearing, flag waving, insular white folks. They are not all inflexible members of the liberal elite. Not all young people hate everything that isn’t socialist or everyone who doesn’t fall into their definition of “woke” (insert current term for woke there). But, if we just talk AT each other rather than WITH each other, we’ll never figure that out.

We all have our blind spots, our prejudices, our biases, and our areas of passion. Not everyone will share them, and not everyone will even express the same biases and passions in the same way we do. We will never grow as human beings nor as a society if we don’t listen to other points of view. Even people we think are dead wrong in one area may have something “right” to share with us in another area, which we’d never find out if we just dismiss them out of hand.

I interrupt this diatribe with a photo of a dishcloth (with an error; I’m keeping this one). YOU can have one if you sponsor this blog and its companion podcast!

I know my audience skews toward people of my age, but still, I want to reach out to those younger than me to listen to us, and give us a chance to share what we’ve been through and how we got there. And then share with people my age what YOU are going through and how you got there, rather than pointing fingers at us, labeling us, and dismissing us. Being young doesn’t invalidate anyone’s experiences and insights, but neither does being old. We can all learn from each other, but we might have to stop talking sometimes and listen.

Rather than trying to drag others kicking and screaming into the new and more advanced world, I’d love to see enthusiastic and passionate people reaching out a hand and gently lifting up others, knowing that they used the experiences of those who came before as stepping stones to get where they are today.

Book Report: Everyday Bias

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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!

Somewhat garish cover, but great book!

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. Practice constructive uncertainty. (Stop to figure out WHY you have a strong reaction to something.)
  4. Explore awkwardness and discomfort. (Figure out your triggers.)
  5. Engage with people in groups you may not know very well, or about whom you may harbor biases. (Get to know an Other!)
  6. 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.

Book Report: Blind Spot

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hooray, it’s time for another in my series of reviews of books on unconscious bias. I had to give this one five stars, because I learned so dang much from Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by the thoughtful, introspective, and extra-scientific duo Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald (Tony) (2013). I’m not sure why, but even though the conclusion of the book is that it’s pretty much ingrained in us to be biased, and we can’t stop it, I felt encouraged in the end.

It’s worth reading!

First of all, I just want to go shake the hands of the authors, who you really get to know while reading Blind Spot, because they very openly share their own experiences and reactions to research. They speak as one, but refer to each other in the third person, like “Mahzarin is hard on herself because of this,” or “Tony can’t keep from shaking his head” when they want to stress individual experiences. I enjoyed that technique.

Also these two are extra famous in their field. They INVENTED the IAT Test (Implicit Association Test, found on the Project Implicit website) that is used around the world to measure unconscious bias in all sorts of respects (racial, gender, age, religion, etc.). They are also amazing researchers in social psychology and back up everything they say with lots of data. In fact, about a third of the book consists of fascinating appendixes, like “Is America Racist?” that answered a lot of my questions on this topic.

Stereotypes applied to me.

It’s a lot of fun to read Blind Spot, especially if you go and take the tests when prompted. You get a real education in your own biases, and when it turns out you exhibit a white = good bias, you feel a little better when the authors admit they have it, too, and repeatedly taking the tests even when they KNOW what it’s testing didn’t change the results. You can’t change what’s hard-wired in your brain, but you CAN work to mitigate it.

And that’s what fascinated me. After the authors painstakingly show how many biases we share (and that many groups show bias against themselves, thanks to the society they grow up in), they do talk about how things HAVE changed. The data is showing that younger people exhibit markedly less of the stereotyped biases than did their grandparents.

I was really interested in the research that showed how early babies learn to distinguish their own cultural group from another, showing preferences for their mother’s race VERY early. What gave me hope? Exposure to other races when very young strongly lessened future bias. HUH!

Another thing that Blind Spot goes over is that we need our stereotypes so that we can function in society. We have to be able to make decisions quickly, and going on past experience is actually very helpful much of the time. They talked about how you may have stereotypes about women, blacks, Muslim, professors, and lesbians, for example. That will lump large groups of people into one generic type. But, if you picture one person with all those traits, you would end up picturing someone much more distinctive.

It appears that I could go on at length, but I don’t want to tell you everything that’s in this book. I want you to read it, think critically about its findings, and see if that changes your perceptions of the people around you or changes your actions. I know I feel like I know my fellow humans better, understand more about how they get to be the way they are, and feel more likely to cut people some slack, including myself. Lots and lots of GOOD people, who are trying to do the right things, consciously, are dealing with unconscious biases they can’t do a darned thing about except acknowledge them and make an effort to mitigate them.

Who knows, maybe we CAN find peace!

That’s probably most of my own friends and family, including me. How about you?

Book Report: Biased

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s time for another in my series of book reports on unconscious bias. This one’s a little different from the previous ones, because it covers mostly just one racial bias, the one against Black people, particularly in the USA. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, was written by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Ph.D., who’s spent her entire career studying this type of bias, and has worked extensively with many police departments to help diminish this kind of behavior within their work. The book came out in 2020, so has recent statistics and analysis, which is always something I enjoy.

Eberhardt shares many stories from her own experience, not only as a researcher, but as a Black woman and mother to Black male children. Her stories about her sons and their experiences, her own experiences in school, and the people she’s encountered during her lecture tours and workshops with police officers are quite eye-opening and add strong punctuation to the data and other information she presents.

I truly appreciated her honesty as she talked about progress and setbacks in racial bias throughout our recent history. She makes it very clear that we have a LONG way to go before people can eliminate this bias, even when they very much want to do so. Data she presents about how people associate Black people with apes without even knowing it disturbed me greatly. And when she presented evidence that the stereotypes and biases are just as present in Black people as in others, I really got to understand that this is a hard, hard issue with no easy solutions.

Eberhardt even comes out and exhorts readers to not be too discouraged, because at least we are now learning exactly what we’re up against.

I learned some facts about how Asians are being treated, both in the US and Europe, and I now understand the pressures many of my children’s classmates dealt with. Even if she didn’t devote as many pages to biases against Asians, Hispanics, and women, she shared enough to get me thinking. It’s just as hard to live up to certain expectations as to rise above negative stereotypes! The few paragraphs on smart women explained a lot of my past experiences.

Sometimes I learned new things from Biased that I wish I hadn’t learned, such as that many “minority” job candidates “whiten up” their resumes, so that prospective employers don’t apply stereotypes. For example, Chinese people put their American nickname on their resume, or Black people just use initials (women do this, too). And they scrub activities that give away their ethnicity. SHEESH! I now see why blind resumes are NOT such a bad idea after all.

I’ll conclude that if you are interested in learning more about racial bias, this book will keep you both engrossed and saddened. But, we need to learn the hard facts of just how much our unconscious biases are ingrained in us before we can work to lessen them consciously. I think it’s worth it.

If you’ve read this book, feel free to share your reactions to it!


Want to support my blog and podcast so I can keep going? Your monthly donation would help cover my blog expenses. I can assure you that on a blog as little as this one, the ads only give me a couple of dollars a month, so even a dollar makes me happy!

Let’s Also Stop with the Fat Shaming

Content warning: discusses weight issues, bullying, and put-downs; also mentions diets

Oh, let me tell you, I’ve had enough of this one. My fat shaming began at Day 1 of life when everyone apparently laughed and laughed when I drank two bottles of formula (not the modern stuff, either) right after birth. Well, you would have, too, if your bone-thin mother’s smoking and drinking had kept you deprived of delicious nutrients while you were in the womb listening to her puff away.

Sturdy, that’s the word. Note Cracker Jack box.

My first diet was in 6th grade, after getting sick of being called fatso, water buffalo, elephant, and such. I was always tall and sturdy for a child, so all those stick children* thought I was fat. I lost ten pounds on that early version of the Atkins diet, and since I was also going through puberty, I grew my final few inches, so I both appeared slimmer and became comparatively smaller, since all the other girls were growing. That was the last year I was second-tallest in the class. By seventh grade, I was short, because the boys started growing. I remain short and sturdy, just like my dad.

My mother’s side of the family were thin people. I’m the big one.

Yes, it’s genetic. I didn’t get my mother’s natural slimness, I got my dad’s natural roundness. And that leads me to my point, which you can learn a LOT more about in this fine Highline/Huffington Post article from 2018 that I read yesterday, Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong, by Michael Hobbes. I think I read it before, but yesterday, since I was still sort of steaming from thinking about ableism, I really started pondering how this bias against fat people has messed with my mind and my biases.

Dad and I had the same build.

Because of all the labeling my family and friends did when I was little, I have always been fat in my mind, even when, looking back, I was pretty average. I blamed most of my problems on being fat (and ugly). I was sure that’s why I didn’t have boyfriends (never imagining it might have been how I acted or my personality).

Too bad. I liked my high school friends. I still like my high school friends, regardless of size.

And I went on diets and more diets, though thankfully I mostly did the “eat less, and eat healthy food, and get exercise” method, which is at least not harmful. I’ve only stopped with all that in the last year or two, and it is hard, hard, hard to just accept myself at the weight my body naturally stabilizes at. But, I’m close to being there! I’m me, and this is how I look! I am in good physical shape, can do lots of things, walk/ride horses/do chores a lot, and don’t eat too many things that are “empty calories.”

Here I am thin. It is because I was so stressed out I couldn’t eat. And getting this thin did not prevent my husband from leaving me, either.

So, my attitude to myself is better, and I’ve stopped labeling myself. But, all that talk I heard growing up, all the put-downs I heard aimed at myself and others, and all the media pressure really got to me. I can still hear people calling a kid named Larry “Lardo.” I remember my high school boyfriend and his best friend making fun of all my chubby girlfriends (except the thin one, who they made fun of for something else). (Hmm, making fun is not actually fun, it turns out.)

I’m afraid I’ve had a pretty bad case of bias against fat people my whole life. Sure, I made lots of strides, and have even been in a relationship with a very large man. My current spouse has always been on the larger side. And of course, plenty of my friends are in various sizes. But still, somehow, my first impulse upon seeing a large person is that they are dirty and lazy. That’s my unconscious bias sneaking out, like if you can’t control your weight, you don’t care about yourself or anything else. ACK.

This self analysis is exhausting (photo from 2013, a thin period).
I’m way happier in this larger photo than in all the thin ones!

My intellectual self knows perfectly well that my biased reactions are unfounded, wrong, and quite unkind. I mean, how many clean, energetic, amazing fat people do I have to know to get this gone? I could name dozens of people I admire, look up to, think are beautiful, and even love that do not fit my stereotype. It makes me very disappointed in myself and angry at society to think of how deeply ingrained my unfounded bias is.

Oddly, once I get to know people, the weight issue disappears for me. I don’t put my friends into fat vs. not fat categories. I may assign labels, but they are more like kind, funny, grumpy, brilliant, talented, or annoying. None of those things correlate with size.

What can I do?

As with all the unconscious biases we don’t realize we have most of the time, a great first step is acknowledging the bias. Once I saw it was there, I could work on retraining my mind to not implicitly judge people based on their weight. I know, having retrained my mind on things in the past, that it will take a bit of conscious work to not ignore or pass over fat people when I first meet them, which is what I always tended to do. It will be worth it in the long run, though, because I’ll get to make friends with all kinds of great folks faster than I would have otherwise.

If you catch me putting people down because of their size, their appearance, or other external qualities, please point it out. It will help me remember that judging people by appearances is not helpful at all (see, I didn’t say it was dumb!).

Back to the theme of the article I read, it really helps to remind ourselves that fat does not mean unhealthy, nor does thin mean healthy. People’s heredity, social circumstances, and many other factors affect weight, not just whether they eat too much of the “wrong” things. We need calories to live and thrive, including fat. Like almost everything else, our weight is caused by lots of factors. It’s not a character flaw.

Food is our friend!

I am convinced that if we studied how to use moderation in everything, like food, exercise, sleep, and work, we’d all be healthier. And certainly, with all the stressors out there, we don’t need to pile on more.

We are all doing the best we can, unless we don’t care, and then that’s our business, right?


*Note that it was pointed out to me, correctly, that calling thin children “stick children” was thin shaming. I shall endeavor to do better in the future, and appreciate this being pointed out!

Book Report: The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias

Rating: 5 out of 5.

At least you get a lot of reading done in bad weather! I zipped through the second of the unconscious bias books I bought to review for work. The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-Performing Teams, by Pamela Fuller and Mark Murphy with Anne Chow, is from FranklinCovey, the business consulting firm. That turned out not to be a bad thing.

Their format made the book interesting to read, and I was surprised how helpful some of their simple charts and learning aids were. Plus, the authors shared lots of detailed and varied stories about how they experienced unconscious bias, from the giving and receiving sides.

The business focus helped the focus stay on doing concrete things to address these biases and make the workplace better. I enjoyed the examples from different types of businesses, too.

Each short and info-packed chapter is followed by exercises that I didn’t find annoying or stupid. It’s pretty obvious that these folks know how to teach adults and engage them.

I had a few aha moments about areas I can work on. One of those is working with neurodivergent people. I plan to look for more resources to help me find ways for teams and individuals to do their best work with fewer frustrations.

An interesting passage on being careful about cultural fit interview questions

On the other hand, I saw some areas where I feel like I, and my employers, are doing a really good job with hiring and employee inclusion. Of course, we can all do better, but I think it’s a wonderful challenge and I enjoy working with our diversity and inclusion initiatives. It feels like a tangible way to make things better for all of us.

Book Report: Sway

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When you’ve got to stay in side and try to keep warm, you can read! Yesterday, I finished Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, by Pragya Agarwal. It’s another big ole book with an academic focus, but I learned a lot about all kinds of bias and how it’s formed.

The author shared some helpful personal stories about being someone born in India who has become a citizen of the UK and has biracial children. She also had some interesting stories about how she is treated as a woman, too. These were my favorite parts of the book.

The long descriptions of various research studies that painstakingly listed every author and where their academic credentials are made a lot of the book a hard slog. I think I prefer books that do share the sources of information, but leave them in notes. That makes it easier to follow the information.

Nonetheless, anyone wanting to study unconscious bias seriously, work in the field, or teach it would benefit from reading Sway. I’m very glad I read it, because I learned a lot about the kinds of bias you find in other places, like the UK and Germany. That’s a topic I’d like to find out more about.

My other favorite sections were when Agarwal talked about bias against accents, which is something I hadn’t thought about before (though I happen to have minimized my own native north Florida accent when I became an academic, knowing I’d be taken more seriously). I found out what kinds of accents are looked down upon in Australia, England and Germany, among other places (that RP British accent is posh everywhere, it seems). And by the way, your native accent makes your amygdala happy, as I found when I talked to the nice AT&T lady on the phone last week while getting my phone plan upgraded.

I’ll leave you with the hopeful conclusion at the end of the book. I hope it’s true:

Understanding more about unconscious bias is not going to magically fix all the injustices in the world. But, if we start becoming more aware of our unconscious bias and what triggers when we are most vulnerable to it, we will become more attuned to the consequences of externalising our unconscious biases in the form of behavioural outcomes. And if we actively exercise strategies to mitigate and counter our unconscious biases, we can hopefully finally put a dent in them.

Sway, p. 408

That’s my plan. To realize when I’m under pressure, stressed, or overwhelmed with data and allow myself to pause and ensure that I’m making my decisions as bias free as I can. And I’ll know there’s always work to do to make things better!

Positive Unconscious Bias?

I got so involved with writing my previous post that I forgot to make one of my points. While thinking of types of people I might be biased against, I became very aware of some ways in which my subconscious biases me toward some people.

While out on a walk with Anita and Pickle, I even said, “I always think I’ll like anyone who has this sign in front of their house.”

The sign has all my buzz words on it. Plus I like the flag addition: it’s for all of us in the USA.

Now, there’s a positive bias! I just assume that, by buying one of these signs, they must be great folks. These must be fine people, too:

I happen to know the sign’s owner IS a nice person, but from actually knowing her, not from her sign.

This is just as inaccurate a way to judge others as lumping all people with Trump pickup-truck flags in the same boat. You really don’t know what a person is like until you actually get to know them (yes, I know their signs DO give a hint, but let’s not pre-judge!).

I tend to have a favorable bias towards dog lovers, too (which helps mitigate some other biases). And if you own a spotted mini-donkey…oooh, you must be GREAT.

Now you know why I fell for my spouse. It was the dogs.

I have some other positive biases, mostly based on education, career choices, and hobbies (I always feel betrayed when I find out a fellow knitter is actually creepy, but having read comments directed at some of my gay knitting heroes, I know they’re out there).

I blame my bias on Mike. Most things are his fault, after all. Here we are in 2013. Apparently I’d just given him a rabbit hutch.

Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure I’m positively biased toward gay men (more neutral toward others). I wonder if it’s because they’ve been kinder to me most of my life, in general, than any other group. Or it’s just empathy based on my family and past friends’ experiences. Of course I’ve known some unpleasant gay men, but my bias makes me assume I’ll like them. Like with any other group, of course, it’s better to get to know individuals than make sweeping generalizations.

Here we are again in February 2020, just before being attacked by the quarantine and becoming more…substantial. I have no idea where we are.

To be honest, after thinking about my positive biases, I can see that they can be helpful shortcuts to identifying potential friends, but they can also make you assume things about people that might not be true. I’m going to make sure I identify the positive ones as well as the negative unconscious biases.

Enjoy this cloud formation in far southeast Austin as you ponder bias.

What are yours?

Happy Heidi's Happenings

My life in the country.

RelatoCorto

Blog Fiction

BrownesPups

A family of dog lovers, owners & breeders since 2015

The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

panic-stricken mountain adventuring!

Something Over Tea

Scribbles from my notebook

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Heccateisis's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Upstate Gardener

The Upstate Gardening blog with Gardening Information, Recipies, Home Improvement Ideas, and Crafts Projects to make your life more beautiful and healthy.

Hope is the Thing

by Melissa Gauthier

Read, Learn, Live

Look closely around and about you, and you will see all forms of beauty.

Nature And Photography

Bring Nature Into Life

AT PATHO

no streetlights, just star light

Words and Stitches

woolgathering at its best

The Grief Reality

Normalising the conversation about Grief.

iRoseStudios.com

Art Studio Dumfriesshire

The Creative Pixie

eat up some crafty goodness with this creative mama

Writings of a Furious Woman

My thoughts, sentiments, and scribbles on womanhood

Paws Bark

Dogs Leave Paw Print in your Heart

Yeshua's Child Art

Art that Expresses the Heart

Chicken Coop Plans

Build Your Chicken a Home

Leaf & Twig

Where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry.

Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Cathartic Tendencies

motivational posts, rants, and stories!

TotallyTexasGifts.com

Featuring Fine Arts & Crafts created and sold by Texans

claudiajustsaying

Aging & Attitude

The Tragedy Kween

A boisterous introvert illustrating her way through life.

Zoewiezoe

Where a little insanity goes a long way

~ Life, Loves and Adventures ~

Family life, pony adventures and a stack of books

The Phoenix Desertsong

Author / Poet / Photographer

Emotional Musings

Getting in touch with your emotional truth, by processing feelings to improve the human condition in the 21st century. Living out loud by my motto,"Triumphing over Trauma" 🌈 In light and in shadow, always with ❤ Namaste 🙏

Exploring Our History

A personal journey of examining the difficult aspects of America’s racial past while holding hope for the future

roads bel travelled

Exploring open roads without breaking the bank

Peterosophy

A writer walks into a bar and leaves the door ajar ...

Now I'm 64

Reflections on life, the universe and everything.

Everyday Lillie

Every Day Lillie - Lifestyle, Early Retirement, Renovation, Travel, Fashion, Beauty, Health and the Occasional Rant about Important Issues like Climate Change