I had to talk to someone I find difficult yesterday. I like to think of myself as a good natured and amiable person, able to ‘get on’ with most people. There are very few people I just can’t make a connection with – but this person is one of them.
Perhaps you know what I mean because there’s someone you struggle with? If so, I’m sure you’ll recognise the tell-tale signs in the relationship. Body language is incongruent, there’s little eye contact, extreme care not to invade each other’s space, stilted conversation. You possibly can’t put your finger on exactly why, but you just know that you just don’t feel positive about them and negative thoughts go through your mind whenever you think about or meet them. Perhaps you don’t like yourself very much because of those thoughts, perhaps you feel guilty about it?
If so, perhaps it’ll help you to know that it’s involuntary, it’s a result of the way in which the human mind works, and it means that each and every one of us discriminate, we’re all prejudiced. Not in the way in which we’ve become conditioned to think of prejudice i.e. race, ethinicity, age, disability religion or sexual orientation but more broadly, dependent on whatever is important to us as an individual.
The thing is that we all filter the hundreds of experiences we have every day. Unconsciously we delete what’s not important to us, we generalise to make comparisons with previous experiences we’ve had and we distort to make things fit with our model of the world. We create an internal re-presentation of each experience in our brain and it’s formed based on our values, our beliefs and our memories of previous experiences. It’s why we can witness the same event as someone else, and have a completely different view of it. It’s because the way we process our experiences is different for every one of us.
On the face of it this might seem to be a bad thing. Far from it, the amount of data we’re faced with every day is much too great for us to process. If you don’t believe me look around right now and notice, really notice, every detail of everything you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. It’s overwhelming isn’t it? Our brains have to decide what we pay attention to at any moment and it filters out everything it considers to be unimportant. If you still don’t believe me than answer this question – "did you notice what your clothes felt like on your skin?" I suspect not, at least until you read this question?" It’s because you filtered it out – your nerves received the data and information is constantly being transmitted to your brain but it wasn’t important and only by specifically reading the question was your mind brought back to it.
So it’s a good thing, but……it the implication is that in the process of deciding what to pay attention to and what to ignore, our brains are discriminating, they’re making a distinction in favour of or against something, showing partiality to something rather than another. The bad thing is that we see our experience as reality and assume that our view is ‘right’, the only valid perspective.
I know I’m discriminating against that person I met yesterday and that it’s having an impact on the relationship. Who are you discriminating against? And what’s the impact – at work or at home?
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