I have always been fascinated by psychology, how the brain works, philosophy, and how humans behave. Going through a faith transition has only increased the desire for learning more on these topics.
Many of the topics within psychology that I have taken just a bit of time to study really help me have a better understanding of human behavior. It really has helped to comprehend how others behave. One thing I picked up early on in these studies was to not only think about how theories explain other’s behavior, but how all of these things apply to ME! It can really be hard to look at yourself and admit you are not totally logical and all your behaviors are not justified. That really hit me when reading “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt.
I was reading that book and nearly fist pumping and saying, “yeah – I can see those folks on the other side of the political isle are not even realizing what they are doing!” Then I remembered, “look in the mirror!” When I did that, it hit me even if I was right about others that they couldn’t see it in themselves, then I probably can’t see it in myself either.
I have intentionally pushed myself the last few years to try and be introspective as I have come to believe that is the only way I will grow (other than the “grow” that happens when I eat too much and exercise too little!). One such way that I have tried was really listening to the “Racism 101” podcast from Rational Faiths.
Over the years I think I have heard a bit of what was said in the early episodes of this podcast. In the past I generally wrote it off as someone exaggerating or their experience being a corner case. It was hard to hear some of what was put forward and I can’t say I am 100% agreement with every position, but I did try to really listen and think, “what if what they are saying is true?”
A few months after that initial episodes of the podcast were out, the thoughts still bounded around in my head. But the point where it really made a change in my perspective was a few months later.
I volunteered to help a local nature preserve clear out some dense overgrown underbrush. It was hard work with thorny bushes. The heat and humidity were stifling. After going after it for quite a while I needed a break, so I stood back from the activity and had a drink of cold water. While I was resting a bit I noticed the activity around one of the volunteers. She was a very beautiful lady. She was not holding back in helping. But I noticed that people (i.e. men and even boys) were almost falling over to help her (I mean literally falling trying to help). There were people helping cut the thick underbrush that she was working on. She saw some of them doing this and she was polite and thanked them. There were others that she did noticed that were making her efforts a bit easier / more productive. I kind of chuckled and thought:
“I don’t think she even realizes just how much people are doing for her, right now and probably her whole life. I think if she was asked if people were helping, she probably would say that everyone was helping everyone. She was doing nothing wrong in any way (in fact she was diving into the hard work), but I thought that I honestly don’t think she has the ability to see the situation objectively EVEN if she tries.”
Then that dang, “look in the mirror” thought came to me. It was at that moment that I realized, that *I* probably also could not see the white male privilege that permeates my view of the world. I can’t know what it is like to be a black man in today’s society. I can’t know what it is like to be a woman. I can’t really understand what it is like to be gay. To a large extent, I don’t think I ever get close to fully understanding what many other people’s lived experience is. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. And the first step in trying is for me to not to assume that I know what others are experiencing, but being curious and listen to them.
I think just as I have literal blind spot in each of my eyes my entire life and I never realized it. I can also have blind spots in my understanding of others and what the world looks like to them.
Just a few months after I came to this realization of at least some my blind spots, I was listening to “Talk Nerdy” by Cara Santa Maria (who grew up Mormon) and she was interviewing Adam Rutherford on the topic of genetics (episode 223 Sept 2, 2018). They started talking about how to start to overcome racism. They mentioned a metaphor put forward by Beverly Tatum:
“I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt… Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. Some of the bystanders may feel the motion of the conveyor belt, see the active racists ahead of them, and choose to turn around…But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt- unless they are actively antiracist- they will find themselves carried along with the others.”
When I heard this I better understood some of the statements from the Racism 101 podcast. If I am letting injustices “just be” without doing something to correct them, I do have some blame even if there are examples of others being much “worse” than I am.
The last year or so I have really tried to look for where I might not be seeing things anywhere near what others might be experiencing. Just trying to be conscience of it. I do see more of it – a lot of it actually with gender, race, etc. I do have hope that I am progressing as I look back only a few years and I think I am progressing and gaining a bit more experience. But with that increased experience I feel that I know less – which I hope is proof that I am on the path to improving if the Dunning-Kruger effect is in play.
When I used to know a lot less, I had more confidence in my knowledge. Now that I have experienced a bit more, I realize I have a few lifetimes of work before I know all that much.
Which just so happens to parallel my religious life. I used to feel I had some confidence in what I knew and understood, but now I have much less confidence. But I am fine and I feel I am more open to learning. I like that more than knowing.
Have you had the experience of thinking you knew someone or something very well, only to find out later on that you see it quite differently?