Let’s talk about implicit bias. First, the definition: Implicit biases are the thoughts and feelings we hold towards others that are unconscious or mistaken. This means we’re very conditioned to see the world in ways that allow us to easily maneuver and navigate in society. Whatever biases are around us, we soak up unconsciously. It can be easy to become defensive when someone says we have biases, as we all want to believe we are good people who treat everyone equally. That’s just not the case. People who claim they are conscious of absolutely all their thoughts might be unaware of their unconscious prejudices. The unconscious mind doesn’t see or hear the negative in the implicit biases we hold, and it takes constant effort to be aware of these behaviors.
How can we identify our own implicit biases and work to change and do better? One way is to watch how we respond to people, to look at who our friends and acquaintances are and what that says about us. How do those interactions and relationships shape us? It can be helpful to make notes in a journal, where you can write down your reflections, things you notice and how you’re going to grow from what you observe. While it may be more comfortable to shield ourselves from this exploratory inner work, that doesn’t benefit anyone. When we deny our prejudices, they become an even bigger issue because they aren’t getting addressed and our behavior isn’t changing.
Another way to examine implicit biases is by using the Buddhist precept of ‘Right Speech’, as described more in-depth in this article by Beth Roth, author and nurse practitioner, for Tricycle.org. At its root, Right Speech is a mindfulness practice that gives us the tools to become more aware of our behavior and learn better ways to communicate harmoniously. This can be by examining the words we say that we know are overtly harmful, but also those more innocuous terms we use without a thought, like ‘those people’, or ‘whitelisting’ vs ‘blacklisting’ which all have undertones of prejudice. Before we speak, we must ask ourselves if our language is bringing us together or dividing us?
When we bring awareness to our actions, values, and thoughts, we create a bridge to connection. Each person has their own unique contribution to the world that needs to be seen. By continuing to work on our own implicit biases, we learn to provide space for marginalized voices, creating a more loving and welcoming world that would benefit us all.