While uncertainty and complexity often feature heavily within our lives, there are times when their overwhelming presence are reflected to us in ways we simply cannot deny. We find ourselves in one of those times now as we brace ourselves for what will unfold in the next iteration of Covid-19 as well as the long-overdue call to action for equity and basic human dignity in the United States.
Over the past weeks since the brutal murder of George Floyd, I have found myself pondering what it means to be complicit as I endeavor to rapidly educate myself about the bias that has been woven into the very fabric of American systems of policy, government, laws, and societal norms that continue to oppress some while bolstering others. I’ve been contemplating the work that needs to be done at both an intrapersonal and interpersonal level to chip away at the conscious and unconscious bias we each hold within ourselves—requiring an ongoing commitment to doing our Inner Work.
At Goleman EI, we are passionate about providing people across the globe with the practical resources to examine the impacts our Habits of Mind (i.e. our thinking, mindset, bias, and beliefs) have on ourselves, others, and the environment around us. We equip people with the practical methods and training to develop Emotional Intelligence within themselves, which in the most practical sense we can think of as core capacities (e.g. Self-Awareness, Focus, Emotional Balance, and Empathy) that exist as latent potentialities within us. When unlocked, these catalytic powers allow us to access the locus of choice itself. Simply put, choice doesn’t exist when we’re on autopilot. When we are on autopilot, we’ve handed over the reins of our conscious choice to our habits, and they run the show. Habits are designed to do their jobs very efficiently and reliably. They are so effective we don’t even have to think about them anymore. The question is, are the habits we have today, the ones that will take us where we want to go?
Similarly, we aren’t able to exercise our own emotional intelligence if we are swept out to sea by the undertow of each emotional swell. If we want to have choice—agency to say or do the thing that unlocks our basic human dignity—then, we must train in strengthening that which gives us choice in each new moment; namely, our own capacity to be self-aware.
By working with what keeps us stuck, we can become aware of the complex dynamics at play within us that give rise to bias within the value chain of perception itself.
Our senses take in a staggering amount of information at any given moment. The brain, the data-processing super organ that it is, rapidly sets to work processing this information, gaps and all. It proactively fills in the missing bits of information transmitted by our senses to make sense of what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. Herein, lies the sleight of hand inherent within perception itself. What do our brains fill in these perceptual gaps with?
The brain relies upon our prior experiences and patterns we’ve unconsciously employed again and again to make sense of and interpret incoming data to decode the raw information our senses continuously feed it. In this way, what we expect to experience and our beliefs about it influence our perception. Unfortunately, these patterns of perception and interpretation are not bias-free. Our perception comes replete with the evidence of what we believe indelibly written all over it.
Let’s take the following scenario which occurred when my daughter was 7 years old:
We were driving from Texas to Colorado to visit family. We stopped for the night in Truth or Consequences, NM—should have been our first clue something strange would soon be afoot at Circle K. As we were unpacking our luggage in the practically-empty parking lot of the motel, out of nowhere comes a grey, mid-size poodle, jumps up, and bites my daughter on her lower lip. It was a long night in Truth or Consequences for the Nevarez family. Since that time whenever my daughter sees a dog approaching, her entire physiological and emotional demeanor shifts to that of someone on edge and high alert. Anyone observing can visibly see the extreme levels of discomfort that quickly sweep over her. Because of this prior experience and the unpleasant imprint it left on her, she has had to work with her emotional reaction to dogs so as not to become paralyzed with fear whenever they pop up in parking lots in the middle of the night or anywhere else for that matter. Thankfully, she has graduated to cautiously watchful after some concerted effort on her part.
My son on the other hand has had only positive experiences with dogs (big ones at that). Therefore, his perception when he encounters a dog is not overly influenced or primed for a fight or flight response the way my daughter’s is.
Perhaps, a simplistic example, but one that illustrates how prior experiences and the sense we make of them inform our beliefs and expectations, which in turn imperceptibly shape our habits of perception. In sum:
- Perception is fraught with complexity.
- Not knowing perception has bias embedded within it, we place a higher level of trust and credence in what we perceive and the sense we make of it than is often warranted or wise.
- Even when we do become aware of where bias enters the picture, we still have to work at becoming aware of what our overlay of expectations, prior experiences, and beliefs bring to the equation.
- Becoming aware of these complex dynamics of perception, we need to unpack our beliefs, asking a series of important questions: 1) Who are my beliefs benefiting? 2) Are my beliefs serving me and others well? 3) Where do my beliefs need upgrading?
- We can only exercise choice once we’ve received our self-awareness learner’s permit. With concerted practice, we can work towards gaining proficiency, and over time we can receive our self-awareness operating license. Before then, there is a risk we will continue to be a danger to self and others on the road of life.
- We must train in self-awareness if we ever hope to positively shift the habits of mind (thinking, mindset, biases, and beliefs) that impact every single result we are getting in our lives today.
- Personal Agency exists as latent potential within us all, as do the key ingredients of emotional intelligence (e.g. Self-Awareness, Focus, Emotional Balance, and Empathy) that ignite our capacity for choice in each new moment.
- This is the Inner Work we must each undertake if we ever hope to progress in dismantling the systems of bias and oppression that are a reflection of the bias we each have inside of us.
This brings me to the next question I am actively exploring. I invite you to do the same, “What will it take for you to get uncomfortable enough, fed-up enough, with the inequity and mistreatment of your fellow human beings to do something about it?”
If you’re interested in starting on the journey of undertaking your Inner Work and believe that’s a logical place to start, we’re here to help: Goleman EI.