With the rise of xenophobia, mass shootings, religious bias, and simply the fear of the “other,” we must delve into the constant amongst all of these – that we are placing a lesser importance on one sect of human beings than another. What is the origin of this bias, and more importantly, can we combat it? What is it that allows us to “see” another human being for their passions and flaws, and what is it that relegates others to these two-dimensional, stereotypical facades that we easily dismiss?

 

I’ve always had a fascination with our individual ability to impact each other’s moods, motivations, interests, and beliefs, for better or for worse, and how for beliefs in particular, someone else’s disagreement can be seen as a personal attack. The challenge of the evening was to better understand and value those different from us, and to attempt to do so by better understanding their beliefs and perspectives. I wanted the group to explore finding common ground with others who may not agree with them on a variety of topics, but still find the ability to converse civilly, articulate perspectives, and show respect. In the words of Bill and Ted, we all tried to be excellent to each other.

 

Our first step was to accept that each and everyone one of us in the room has biases, both implicit and explicit. Our explicit biases are ones we are aware of, and for the most part are active in their development. Implicit biases are a bit harder to pinpoint as they are subconscious. We might not know where they originated from, or that we even have them, and yet our behavior is shaped, nonetheless. I’m sure many were asking themselves, what did this have to do with valuing human life, and in response were asked to consider topics like racism, immigration, sexism, bigotry, even politics. The group was challenged to look past these two-dimensional facades, these damaging implicit biases, to see others for what they are – humans.

 

Our brains make generalizations for more efficient decision making. And believe it or not, people are more likely to bond over a shared dislike, than a shared like. In fact, by diminishing another group for a disliked trait, one can in turn lift themselves and theirs up through perceived superiority. Having an enemy gives us a sense of control. With an enemy or opponent, you can not only attribute bad things to a clear cause, but also pervert the motivations of the opposing group. If you think of a topic about which you are passionate, in your own party you view your motivations as being positive and spurred by compassion and good for others. However, when we imagine the motivations of the opposing group, we don’t tend to assume their motivations are positive. In fact, we may assume they are motivated by negativity and hate. There becomes this duality of good versus evil.

 

I admit, I’ve been guilty of abrupt emotional reactions during lively debate, subconsciously regressing into hate and judgment when disagreed with, but instead of accusations and remedial name calling, I’ve challenged myself to pause and ask “why.” Why does this person believe something contrary to me? What is it in their experience, or access to additional knowledge, that influenced their perspective? It was rewarding that despite the initial hesitation and questions of “you are going to out us right here?” regarding their perspectives on polarizing topics, that the group quickly came together to share their beliefs and willingly listen to others. Discussion became so involved that I even got glares when it came time to conclude. Those involved embraced the opportunity to share their opinions with someone of a differing mindset, and relished the chance to not only be heard, but also maybe understood.

 

Photography and video by Mike Marques of Arbor Light Studio

 

 

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