As a young adult in college, my surroundings change constantly. The people, places and things I interact with every day are different from where I come from. Coming to Lafayette from a small conservative town, there is a big shift in social dynamics.
Figuring out how to interact properly with students of different backgrounds was interesting. I was never biased against people for their race, gender or ethnicity. But I realized I held a subconscious bias toward people who did not live like me.
Everyone has some type of bias towards something. Choosing to only hang out with people who you think are “model citizens” is a bias, as well as liking Apple products over Android products. Some people take those biases to the extreme and stereotype based on a person’s race or gender. Those biases are harmful to everyone, including the person that has them.
Psychology Today says that “Starting at a young age, people will discriminate between those who are like them, their ‘ingroup,’ and those who are not like them, ‘their outgroup.’ On the plus side, they can gain a sense of identity and safety. However, taken to the extreme, this categorization can foster an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and lead to harmful prejudice.”
Biases that negatively impact your perception of people and your socialization in the world are detrimental to your life. We have seen countless amounts of time videos online of people who are blatantly and openly calling people slurs or saying racist things. These videos get millions of views because these people are acting out of society’s norms.
We think this, because they are out of society’s norms. Many minority groups have worked extremely hard over many years to fight stereotypes, racism and ableism, in order for today’s society to have a clear line between what is acceptable and what isn’t. But not many people follow them and these few people are what continue to feed biases.
Then there are more personal biases, the type that you formulate yourself. They are still partly formed by your surroundings, but these biases you typically tend to not want to dig deep into. You may have a negative bias towards people who like your rival sports team. And you will defend your chosen team, no matter what they do.
I discovered that I have those personal biases toward people who live, what I deem, crazy lives. I am a stickler for order, I like planners with all of my to-do lists on them. I need to have everything that I have ever heard or deem important written down on a piece of paper somewhere. I make my plans at least an hour in advance, I never make spontaneous plans.
So, when I came to college and I saw that my peers did not have this type of order, I looked down on them. I thought I was better because I was able to plan my time accordingly and always had my T’s crossed and my I’s dotted. It was until college life finally caught up to me, that this type of thinking bit me in the butt.
My mental health depreciated greatly, and I could not move from my bed for weeks on end. I saw my assignments slip from me; I couldn’t even muster up the energy to get my planner out. I watched the sun rise and set from my bed, I did not do a single productive thing. Luckily, I got the help that I needed and was able to salvage a few of my grades.
I recently found my planner tucked in an empty drawer and I realized that I became the person I feared. I became the person with a “crazy life.” I didn’t have a set schedule anymore, didn’t know what was due when, or how my day was going to unfold. And I had to realize that it was okay. Living a life that wasn’t meticulously planned out, was perfectly fine.
But I couldn’t do this without looking at my bias head-on. Shying away from your actions is a weak thing to do. You will never learn unless you own up to your actions and take responsibility for them. I had to own up to the fact that I did look down on my peers and made snide remarks about them.
I am still looking within myself for other biases that I may have. While it is human nature to have a fixed first impression of something, it is not always correct to have them. If these biases have prevented me from seeing my peers struggle, then what else is it preventing me from seeing?
I’m not proud of thinking highly of myself when it came from the demise of others, but I did it. And I think other people should take a look into their biases as well. Learn how to view what you think is wrong from the eyes of those people. It doesn’t necessarily have to change your views, but it will show you empathy for others.