2013 was a great year for me to do some deep self assessment, come to terms with emotions. Over all 2013 was a rough year and given the state of 2014 thus far, I have yet to decide if it has been any better. The upside though is that adversity is how you grow. I have taken the past year to really dig in to what makes my brain tick, I have been picking up philosophy and psychology books like they are going out of style. Some of them have, others have not. I am a slow reader so I have yet to get thru everything but it has helped me become more aware of my self. I feel that I am far more in sync with my own emotions. Thus I have come to a concussion: people, in general, are just shitty to each other.
The key to this conclusion is the ‘in general’ part. Because the world is complex, the brain builds subroutines and shortcuts to help make sense of the world. Why reprocess a bunch of data when you already can assume the answer? Your pet dog comes in to the room, does your brain start to ponder if this is a threat? Mine doesn’t, it’s my dog Trek and he either wants to go out side, snug, or play. These shortcuts are known as habits but they are not limited to pets. At least in my brain, I have habits that help me make meals, I have habits on getting from place to place. I have so many habits that I could not even begin to count them, and this is by design, they are subconscious. These are compiled subroutines that are executed with out conscious interaction.
I had a few paragraphs here about how habits help but you get the point. The key is when we take habits to the next level and abstract out from our daily life. Do all cops hate blacks? Do all whites fear blacks? Do all politicians lie? Do all republicans hate gays? Do all lesbians hate men? Do all men have a lesbian fantasy? The list goes on and honestly the answer to every one of these generalizations is no. If you think about it for just a few seconds you can think of at least one person that you know that would refute each one of these absolute statements. Again because the world is complex our brain has built shortcuts, but that is all that it is a shortcut. Your brain makes a generalization for some reason and you go on living your life focusing on what your brain feels is more important. Are members of the football team bullying you? It might make sense to fear a football jersey. But if the last time that happened was 20 years ago and you still fear a football jersey, is that really the appropriate emotion for the stimulus? Just as you clean out your closet from time to time it is healthy to question why you have the assumptions and shortcuts that make you, well you.
This is not to say that chaining a habit is easy, but awareness is simple to obtain and it is the start to any type of change. All you have to do is ask why when you notice that you did anything that feels like it just happened. Watching TV and happen to flip by a football game and you all of sudden get all amped up for seemingly no reason, ask your self why. Introduced to a person of another race, instantly have a presumption about them, why? Feel that you are inferior to that guy for cubes over who you have never really met but just seems intimidating… why? The trick is to not just stop at the first answer, but to keep asking why, keep going until there really is not a good answer to the simplest question in the world. Be your own nagging 3 year old:
- Woah I just avoided that whole group of teens at the mall!
- Why? Well they looked scary.
- Why? There were like 12 of them.
- Why does that matter? Well I guess it doesn’t.
- Ok so why did you avoid them? I guess it was that one big guy?
- So do you think you have a fear of big guys? Guess so?
Does this imply that you have resolved anything? No! But becoming aware helps you make better decisions despite your emotional reaction to things. For example if you know that you have a habitual fear of large men, then that might explain why you generally avoid that guy a few cubes over? He might have never talked to you, never been in a meeting with you but if he goes to the gym then you might have already determined that he is out to get you with no evidence.
If you do not come to terms with your own bias, if you do not question your own habits from time to time. Then you will be just as guilty as any one else and at some point you will find your self being shitty to some one else just because of a silly little habit of yours. It sucks but, hay, the world is a complex place, right?