Challenge your brain go beyond just YOUR experiences
Think back to your childhood and adolescence….what was going on in your world? What was your family like, your friends, your education, your media exposure?
Hold those thoughts for a moment and think about how that might shape your beliefs. Did you work hard for what you achieved? Did you have exposure to a diverse set of experiences and people? Did you think everyone was just like you?
If you are like me, the answers are revealing. I was raised by a single mom with low disposable income. We had a small two-bedroom apartment near the bowling alley and I felt quite embarrassed to bring friends over. Most of my friends were in more affluent families with access to more resources. I worked hard for the things I got and thought everyone else did too. I thought my way of doing things was clearly the obvious right way to do things.
Fast forward to college and my coming of age years. I quickly learned that there were a lot of people different from me. I became curious about them instead of judgmental about them, and it took a lot of work. It was a conscious effort to unlearn the lived experiences my brain had recorded and manifested in my belief system.
Our lived experiences shape our attitudes and beliefs.
Lived experiences are your network, your education, your family, essentially all the things that have happened to you on the road of life. Based on our icebreaker exercise thinking about your lived experiences, how might these shape your attitudes and beliefs? If you’re like me and most people, the myth of meritocracy is a very firm belief in Western culture. Because I worked hard that everyone else worked hard to get to where they are and that’s simply not true.
For instance, if you went to college, you probably prefer working with people that also went to college. You might believe that education has given you advantages. Or, if you grew up in a non-diverse place like many people do in America, you may just not understand what it’s like to be different. You likely have no understanding of what it’s like to be the only person of color in the room or the only person that looks or thinks differently.
Gain self-awareness through uncovering your biases.
That’s all great, but what do you do? Self-awareness is a gift. It’s only when we truly look ourselves in the mirror that we can understand our attitudes and beliefs and how we might shift them over time. Your lived experiences shape your biases. Think about the following questions to reveal your potential biases:
- What exposure did I have to gender roles growing up (family, education, friends)?
- How many people have I known in the LGBTQ+ community throughout my life?
- What exposure have I had to different races, ethnicities, and nationalities?
- How many people do I know that have a disability (cognitive, physical, etc.)?
Based on your answers to these questions, you likely have bias for what you have not experienced. Our brains fear things that are complex or different than what we’re used to. Based on what we’ve normalized through our lived experiences, we may just not know how to deal with others that are different from us or that we have not had exposure to.
Exposure does not work alone.
You may be thinking, okay, I just need to get to know people in the LGBTQ+ community or those with disabilities or those of different racial backgrounds. Yes, and that alone will not solve this problem. You need to understand the sources of bias to be able to understand how bias might creep into everyday behaviors and set us up to be unintentionally exclusive.
We can’t simply unpack all of our history of bias and undo it with short-term exposure. With exposure to other races, genders, or sexual orientations we absolutely can work towards better understanding the perspectives of others, but we have to be careful still that our biases do not impact our behaviors and actions.
Check yourself often. Be aware that you don’t know what you don’t know. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Be brave and keep on the ally journey.