Recently, I was thinking about bias. You know, when you meet someone that you just don’t like, and there’s no logical reason.
I mean, there isn’t one if you actually sat yourself down and thought about it
But most of the time, you don’t think about it; you go by your “gut.”
And sometimes, that’s okay. Maybe your gut is remembering that the creepy dude at the bar looks like a wanted poster you saw recently.
So obviously, I’m not talking about those potentially life threatening instances. I’m talking about those random moments, when you meet someone and just don’t like that person, even though you know that they are harmless.
Here’s the thing about being human ; if we don’t have a good reason, we will make one up. We will imagine an insult, or decide that person talks too loud, or is too much of a pushover. Pretty much anything to vilify (even slightly) the other person so that we don’t have to admit that we have no real reason.
The problem with irrational biases, is they are about as difficult to overcome as they are unfair. Perhaps you really don’t like that person because he reminds you of the kid who bullied you in third grade. Or you’ve never liked tall people because they make you feel short, and you were picked on for being short.
These examples sound ridiculous, except that not everyone knows or remembers the origins of their likes and dislikes; they simply all get bundled into the general business of living.
The first step to trying to overcome irrational biases, is of course, to acknowledge that you have them. Most people don’t like to admit that they’re biased, much less irrational. But perhaps it would make you feel better to know that just about everyone is irrational about something; it’s a side effect of being alive.
Obviously, if you’re irrationally biased about entire groups of people, you really should work on it.
But what if it’s just something mild? Like you don’t hate the person, but he has an annoying tic that drives you up the wall? What then? It’s not like you’re unaware that this is an irrational bias, but if you have to hear this dude chewing loudly one more time, you’re afraid you will punch him.
If you’re like me, this kind of awareness often comes with a heaping dose of guilt. What does it say about you, that you cannot overlook this admittedly minor fault? What if you know said loud chewer regularly donates his time to saving puppies? You must be a terribly petty person! Which is another reason to dislike this person! He makes you feel petty!
This is how I manage it.
Try to think of your dynamic with this person as, say, a peanut allergy. There’s is nothing inherently wrong with peanuts. In fact, you would be the first to acknowledge that the peanut is an amazing source of low cost protein, as well as a beloved addition to chocolate and many baked goods.
But unfortunately, you’re allergic.
Not deathly allergic, but certainly enough that you need to be aware of it and limit your exposure.
What would be irrational is to blame the peanut for your allergy. The peanut simply is, it hasn’t done anything wrong. Your allergy is your responsibly to manage.*
Realizing that you are not required to like everyone, but you should show a basic level of civility (be responsible for your own reactions) is very freeing.
It also makes it feel much less personal when you realize someone doesn’t seem to like you through no reason you can fathom. Perhaps you are their peanut allergy!
There’s only a problem when people act like they’re going to go into encephalitic shock when running into someone. I do think some people really are toxic** to each other; and my advice is to never invite them to the same party.
Or if you must, see if you can also invite your social equivalent of an epi-pen.
*It occurs to me that I enjoy using food as analogies for emotional states. It gives a whole new spin to emotional eating, I suppose.
**Always keep in mind, there are also those unfortunate people who are more like arsenic, or one is bleach and the other is ammonia; two things that should never be mixed in close proximity. Avoiding these people is not cruelty; it is self preservation. Just make sure to at least ask the question: arsenic or peanuts?