In response to my quizzical expression, he whispered, “I’ll fill you in after the meeting.”
Outside the conference room, my colleague stated our new boss had a theology certificate. “I saw it on a copy of his resume that was floating around in the office.”
“OK, but why would you expect him to start a meeting with a prayer?”
“Isn’t that what religious people from the south do?”
Wow, no wonder there’s such low levels of tolerance in the world today! Many a lizard brain is running amuck, fueled by stereotypes that can lead to prejudice and discrimination.
Simplistically speaking, our amygdala (Seth Godin calls it the “lizard brain”) provides us with our conditioned, emotional responses. It’s kinda like an autopilot for decision making. Unconsciously, we detect whether someone or something new is harmful or safe.
Then, using that initial emotional reaction as a foundation, we instinctively sift through stored facts and accept those that support our original determination and reject others that don’t justify our position. So, without intending to, we jump to the wrong conclusion.
Jumping to the wrong conclusion
After seeing a southern location coupled with a theology certificate, my colleague deduced that the boss was an uber-devoted fellow who would try to introduce his conservative religious views in the work place.
That conclusion was miles away from reality.
The boss is a four-time brain tumor survivor. He’d moved south to be closer to a renowned cancer treatment center. He’d gotten the theology certificate because he wanted to get comfortable with dying and doing so with grace.
Yikes. That’s how bias and stereotypes get us into trouble—when they encourage us to jump to the wrong conclusion…and we listen.
3 ways to show the lizard brain who’s boss
As Seth writes, “The amygdala isn’t going away. Your lizard brain is here to stay, and your job is to figure out how to quiet it and ignore it.”
Here’s three simple places to start letting the lizard brain know who’s boss.
1) Acknowledge that everyone has learned a few biases and adopted some stereotypes along the way.
It happens; in fact, it’s hard to escape it. But this mental reality only becomes wrong when we react to those biases and stereotypes without pause, clarification or investigation and jump to a conclusion. Not every old maid has lots of cats. Not every guy who prefers playing the piano to football is a wimp.
Once you label me you negate me. ~Søren Kierkegaard
2) Be mindful of language.
Language can be a powerful tool or weapon. Words and phrases like “every xx” and “that’s just like an xx” indicate close-mindedness which perpetuates a stereotype. “Acting like a man” or “throwing like a girl” are inaccurate, unfair descriptors that create boxes, boxes that limit expression, creativity, and freedom.
Rarely has a sentence begun with, “You people…” ended well. Suspend judgment and treat people not as stereotypes but as individuals. ~Doe Zantamata
3) When someone automatically labels you with a stereotype, tactfully and kindly challenge their assumption.
Give yourself permission to set the record straight when people jump to a biased or stereotypical conclusion that doesn’t apply to you. Say to them, with tact and grace and caring, “I understand it’s popular to believe that fat people are lazy. So let me share with you why that doesn’t apply to me.”
It’s only scary the first time you do it. I know.
We are much too inclined to divide people into permanent categories, forgetting that a category only exists for its special purpose and must be forgotten as soon as that purpose is served. ~Dorothy L. Sayers
What’s your advice for taming the lizard brain so we can work together to start conquering bias and stereotype?
Image source: morgueFile