YOU ARE PREJUDICED… AND HERE’S WHAT IT’S DOING TO YOUR DECISIONS
The world’s best navigation system can’t get you where you want to go if it doesn’t know your starting point. Almost everyone thinks they are starting their decision-making process from a clean slate, but that is rarely true.
Mental shortcuts (known as heuristics) impact our starting point. Heuristics are based on previous life experiences and beliefs which are ingrained in us and naturally influence our decisions. While they are efficient shortcuts to snap judgments, heuristics are a hindrance when we need to be objective.
Of all of the shortcuts that can hijack our decision making, the most prevalent is PREJUDICE.
Most of us like to think that we are not prejudiced. After all, prejudice is bad, right? Prejudice is bad when it leads you to ignorant, misguided decisions, but prejudice defined as: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience is a heuristic and hard to completely avoid.
Common prejudices (both positive and negative) are based on:
4-Culture or heritage
8-Language and dialect
Let’s test your lack of prejudice…
You are a casting director and have just been given your big break–casting roles for an upcoming Hollywood movie in which the main characters are athletes from different sports and different walks of life. The athletes are all on the same flight when disaster strikes. The plane crashes into a thick jungle, and they have to learn how to survive in the wild for an extended period of time.
The director wants you to cast the six main characters as two athletes from three different sports: basketball, soccer and golf. In each sport, one athlete is from a poor background and the other athlete comes from a wealthy family.
What types of people will you call in to audition? You may consider yourself to be open-minded, but you are probably not going into these casting calls without some idea what type of person will best fit each role. Now, lock these images in your mind, or better yet, write them on a piece of paper.
At the end of the movie, the athletes are rescued. Their plight has captured the nation’s attention and they get to meet the President of the United States. Who will you cast as President in the movie? What does the President look like? What type of demeanor will the President have? What makes someone seem “presidential”?
Did you choose a woman to portray 50% of the athletes? After all, there are female professional basketball players and golfers. The American women’s soccer team gets better results on the world stage than the American men’s team, so of course you cast the soccer players as women, right?
Did you choose a woman for at least one of those roles? If you didn’t, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It just means that when you think of athletes, you naturally think of men only.
Maybe you don’t think of these shortcuts you took in your hypothetical casting job as prejudices, but they are.
The best decision making starts with having clean slate–no biases or leanings and no prejudices. As humans, we don’t have a clean slate. Instead, we have to make an effort to become aware of any prior biases or preconceived conclusions and consciously avoid letting them influence us. Once you acknowledge their existence, they become much less powerful. And without prejudice in the way, our decisions become more fact-based, more sound, easier to rationalize or defend and, on the whole, better.