I want my kids to look for unexpected potential in others and in themselves, but do I do the same?
Citing a study, The New York Times reported that when children over five saw a box filled with items, they struggled to see the box as anything other than a container. But the younger children saw it as a flexible resource with a variety of uses.
Not surprising, is it? As we age, we categorize the uses and potential of human beings, too. We’ve all felt pigeonholed sometimes -- our intents, abilities, or opinions misjudged. Clearly, a degree of labeling is necessary, but I’m as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone else. Race, nationality, gender, age, occupation, and other characteristics suggest what we might think, do, or say.
Ironically, narrowness of expectations infects genuine efforts to curb oppression and injustice: Research can be structured to confirm beliefs. As we sow our impressions and nourish our prejudices, positive change gets harder.
To make matters worse, studies show that the more power and influence a person garners, the more narrowly they tend to judge others’ potential and the less capable they are of seeing things from another person’s perspective.
Thank God there are antidotes to these human tendencies.
Engage a variety of people. Whether traveling far or locally, be more a pilgrim and less a tourist. Train yourself to connect and learn from others, even if their categories tempt you to dismiss them.
I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.