Women are weak! Men are strong! Fat people are lazy! Short men are ugly! Fair skinned women are beautiful!
Don’t worry, we don’t believe any of that. They are all classic examples of a bias.
Bias is an unfair tendency to believe that one thing is better or worse than another that has no basis in facts. These biases are always against a person, or a group of people and negatively affects cohesion in society.
If you prefer aloo ki sabzi over karele ki sabzi, then you are biased towards aloo ki sabzi, and biased against karele ki sabzi.
The problem starts when this bias affects our behavior towards complex cognitive beings – people! Oftentimes, our biases are so well-hidden that we ourselves aren’t aware we carry them, like money that we find in our jeans that we never knew was there in the first place!
How are Biases formed?
How do we even acquire these pesky critters?
Growing up, we pick them up from our parents and peers. From the society around us. Essentially, from the people we trust and respect, we tend to pick up beliefs unquestioningly, regardless of age.
For example, seeing moms behaving rudely to the house helper, or teachers praising kids that score well and reprimanding low scorers. Consequently, we pick up these attitudes and are biased against house helpers or judge success or failure solely on the basis of marks.
Biases can be picked up through personal experiences. These experiences need not necessarily be first-hand.
For example, if your friend comes and tells you an institution is bad, you might avoid it and even ask other people to avoid it.
Biases can also be evolutionary in nature. Whatever helped our ancestors survive!
For example, Body odor is bad, because it could indicate bad hygiene where harmful bacteria may reign and give us fatal diseases. This calculation our brain does swiftly and the output is that we distance ourselves from such individuals.
Biases: Are they Functional?
Where biases are inherently against something, our brains have short-cut ways of thinking called heuristics that help us make mostly decisions with less effort and more efficiency.
Think of it like an educated guess made at exceptional speeds.
For example, when you’re stuck in traffic and see an alley to the left and you decide to take it, even though you don’t know where it will come out. It might work out or not! You might reach a dead end, or end up saving valuable minutes in your day.
Heuristics can therefore work in our favor if we use them intelligently.
What could be going on in these people’s heads? Both the perpetrators and the victims.
Human beings like predictable things. It gives us a sense of security. People are the biggest unpredictable factors in our life. Consequently, some of us mistakenly try to box people into stereotypes and treat them a particular way without having to consciously think about them.
This counter-intuitive shortcut of trying to label the world around us ends up with the mislabeling and misattributing of people.
The victims on the other hand might end up internalizing this hate. This might lower their self-worth and self-esteem. They might react by becoming more guarded and scared.
Why Should we care?
Biases stop us from thinking rationally and negatively affect our attitude towards swathes of people. It also hampers our efficiency. This is a lose-lose situation for everybody involved, the biased individual, and the victim of the bias.
Naturally, bias has a profoundly negative impact on the mental health of the people facing bias, and the individuals perpetrating the bias.
The Self-concept of the people facing biases are negatively affected. For example, a queer individual facing biases owing to their sexuality may end up hating themselves and who they are because of the treatment other people of their community face from society.
When a kid is appreciated only for getting good marks, the kid equates bad marks with the definition of a bad person.
All this happens implicitly and hurts our mental health.
Social relationships suffer too. If people face bias from their own loved ones or friends, the relationships with them suffer too.
A queer indivudual who faces bias from their own parents might end up severing all contact with them. This is a double edged sword where a parent who indulges in their biases might lose the bond with their children, and children might lose their bonds with their parents.
Biases hamper efficiency and effectiveness in our professional lives as well.
A gynecologist might find biases accusing them of asking people to marry or being too nosy, or a therapist messing with people’s minds, or a doctor prescribing medicines just to make money
Alternatively, a doctor can be the perpetrator of these mindless biases and refuse to treat people from certain faiths.
Both scenarios are equally dangerous and damaging.
These biases stop us from performing our jobs to the best of our abilities. It creates an environment of distrust and paranoia that is both unhelpful and anxiety-inducing.
Kind of like eating an uncooperative Parle G. Every dip fills us with the great dread of losing the entire biscuit to the ocean of tea! G for Good Grief!
The rigid thinking within a biased mind is harmful to everybody, including its own self. A great many aspects of life remain closed to a rigid mind.
It stifles creativity and freewill.
For example, something as simple as choosing a route to work. If you are biased to a route, even if it is filled with potholes and traffic, if we don’t look for better more scenic routes, we shall forever be stuck yelling that electric auto to get out of our way!
This rigid thinking can lead to aggressive acts and hate crimes perpetrated by biased individuals to the erosion of and degradation of our inherent humanity.
Aggressive acts like bullying people from different faiths, targeting people from specific religion, gender, nationality and harassing them is the progression of bias in an individual. Violence hurts the aggressor too.
Biases fester in our minds like septic injuries.
How to Safeguard Ourselves?
How do we treat these “injuries”?
The first step to combating these biases is to acknowledge the possibility that we might unwittingly harbor them too.
Self-awareness practices help us discover ourselves. Questions like “what’s troubling me the most?” “How am I feeling right now?” help reflect and introspect.
Widening your social circle and interacting with varied kinds of people also help dispel deeply entrenched biases.
Having a regular conversation with yourself about your behavior can also help recognize biased behavior and help control it.
Imagine fire, heuristics can be a cooking fire if used properly, or one might burn themselves if they’re not careful.
Biases are full-fledged forest fires and can burn the whole fabric of society down to the ground if we aren’t careful.
We can only move forward as a species with love and kindness. It is human to have biases, but we can identify and nullify them with the right attitude. So go ahead my friends, reflect, grow and prosper!