by Ali Valdez, Endre Voros, and Ari Levari
If you listen to NPR (or any liberal-leaning news source), you’ve noticed a continuous stream of stories confirming the use of misinformation by Russians to tamper with the US Presidential election. It appears that the Russians have been using social media and psychometrics to push out pro and con stances on the same issue, just to create discord amongst the US population.
This made me think of unconscious biases and the ego, and wonder, do we ever really have control over our thoughts?
Every day we run misinformation campaigns: in our subconscious minds. The only problem is that our unconscious biases keep hidden and we remain none the wiser because they are implicitly believed and remain completely unexamined. Unconscious bias is a hibernating bear in the dead of winter, resting deep within our psyche, emerging from sedimentary layers of personal experience and opinion. Unconscious biases flourish while thought around them remains unexamined. Consequently, looking at our biases is a great way to deconstruct them.
On some level, this aspect of our ego’s defense system serves as a well-armed ally. Unconscious biases remain hidden because they are our fortresses, allowing our ego to feel secure, validated and when confronted, indomitable. They give the ego a sense of solidity. Focusing the lens through which to view the world, the optics of ego frame the ambiguity that’s continually present in our world as something we can overcome.
By design, the ego is built on a false foundation, wanting to reinforce its belief that it is unique, separate, special. It uses its own misinformation – faulty, limiting beliefs, emotions and body postures – to brainwash itself into believing what it tells itself. Why do you think, for example, we say the same things to ourselves over and over inside our heads? These endless thought loops serve to reinforce our beliefs in our version of reality and discredit any other. The ego acts as playwright and audience, smugly clapping along to a story with predictable characters and a derivative ending.
How do we know when unconscious biases are operating? First, check in with your emotions, as unconscious bias tends to “feel” as if they are undeniably true.
If we were laying out steps on how to work with unconscious biases, they would be:
1. When you feel strong emotions, begin with the assumption that there might be an unconscious bias underlying it. Strong emotions are a signal that the brain is in fight or flight. Be forewarned that even examining unconscious biases is a very hard step to take. If you are able to examine an unconscious bias, you’ve already taken a very big step. Congratulations!
2. When strong emotions are in play, it’s a great idea to ask yourself “when was the first time I felt this way?” What you’ll often find is that there is a “first time” and that finding it gives you a chance to investigate how the bias was created. Finding how and why the bias was created begins to deconstruct it, lessening its power over your behavior and actions.
3. Ask yourself, “how much of what I’m feeling now has to do with ‘now’ and how much of it has to do with that ‘first time’? What you’ll often find is that there is a percentage that has to do with now and a percentage that has to do with then. You’ll also often find is that the percentage having to do with now is relatively small, thus, giving you clarity on what is needed in the moment.
Go ahead, try it. Three simple, easy steps and see what you find. Keeping a journal or writing down your moments of insights will serve as a valuable reference later. Inquire with someone trustworthy who knows and loves you and see how their perspective may help reveal blind spots in your consciousness.
Removing unconscious biases is a great step towards more effective leadership. You will be able to lead with greater clarity and your team will be more responsive to your inherent openness and reasonable nature. It is also a great step for building and sustaining important work relationships. The less attached we are to our biases, the more “sticky” we are as leaders, and the more others want to follow our lead.
The misinformation campaigns run by Russia had a profound effect on our national narrative. The concepts spread by Russia fundamentally altered how a vast swathe of our country viewed the reality of our political arena. Similarly, on a daily basis, your ego’s misinformation campaigns – unconscious biases – obscure objective reality. Through consciously noting these misinformation campaigns, whether internal or external, we can begin to live beyond their powerful, reality-distorting, effects. We can become simultaneously more objective and more compassionate. We can lead with both logic and heart. Once the fog in our head is cleared, we can look across our vast internal expanse, and like an eagle flying over the Rockies, revel in our freedom.