Bias verses Survival

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Several weekends ago, Brent and I attended a leadership conference in Destin, Florida. The seminars took place within the halls of this stunning resort, and by reputation, I knew that the quality of the workshops were going to make our trip worthwhile. The main workshop that we were looking forward to the most was actually facilitated by Brent’s dad. Obviously, we were biased, but the content of the workshop alone was intriguing and right up our alley. The goal of the presentation was to challenge us members to think critically about our own biases and mental models. Surely, this wasn’t our first rodeo. Our line of work forces us to think critically about perspectives and potential prejudice. What I neglected to realize, however, is that this conversation would not be as seamlessly translated for some as it would be for most.

As we processed the presentation as a group, a woman to my left raised her hand, and announced, “Now, I don’t quite agree with this philosophy. Don’t our mental models exist because we need to use them for survival?”

She continued to explain. “For example”, she began. She reiterated Brent’s father’s prior example of encountering a tattooed gentleman in some restaurant years back. At the time, Brent’s dad had made an assumption about this gentleman, assuming that he was dangerous.  “What a time to leave my pistol in the car,” he joked. But he stated that once the man spoke up to the hostess, he had a high-pitched voice and a sweet demeanor. Hm. Mental Models, disproved.

so, it was your bias that alarmed you in order to keep you safe. So, aren’t these lenses used for survival? Why should we ignore them when they exist to keep us alert and safe?”

I listened very carefully. Before making assumptions about her (thus trying to disprove my own mental models to write her off as a brazen redneck woman), I wanted to hear her out and attempt to learn why she felt this way. Brent’s father countered her argument [on more than one occasion] by emphasizing the dangers of polarizing these assumptions. “Avoid thinking of this concept in extremes. It is not prejudice verses survival tactics. This presentation is to encourage you to think about how your biases can alter what you see as ’truth’.”

This woman had a difficult time leaving this message as the final word. She repeatedly tried to argue that mental models were absolutely necessary to maintain a level of personal safety and awareness. Ultimately, as a group, we were burnt out from this disagreement. We packed up our materials and moved on to the next shiny topic that came our way.

As I’ve revisited this in my mind, I’ve come to realize that this conversation should be had in every classroom, family, marriage, friendship circle, work environment, (the list can go on). As an instinctual, survivalist species, we should not take for granted our survival senses when they go off- in fact, we should always honor our intuition. But prejudice is a different beast. Prejudice is actually completely ignoring your intuition, only to follow a societal construct that leads to dangerous stereotyping.

If you have not done so already, encourage you to authentically sit and unpack your mental models. Address particular prejudices that you may be battling. Journal about them. Talk them out with people you love and trust. Ask your spirit guides to guide you through them. You may never know what may arise as a result.

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