What You Will Learn:
- How our unconscious minds work, and how thoughts begin in the unconscious mind before being passed to conscious awareness
- How the brain processes 11 million separate pieces of information in one second, and how 10,999,960 of those pieces of information are never passed to the conscious mind
- Why the unconscious mind is prone to making the assumption that our own personal experience is actually a universal experience
- How our lives are highly segregated, with people in the US averaging only one person in their circle of friends from a different racial group
- Sara shares a story of an encounter she had while playing tennis with her Black/Latino husband and her young daughter
- Sara shares a different story of how her son was stopped and interrogated by police multiple times a week in their neighborhood
- How the difference in experience shows up in the workplace, and how marginalized groups have a very different work experience from dominant groups
- How asking yourself “can I consider the possibility?” consciously tests your unconscious mind and helps you recognize that others have different experiences
- How Black and Brown people statistically have a very different experience interacting with police, even when they have committed an identical crime to White people
- Why the next step is to ask yourself the question “what would it mean if it were true?”, and how that can lead to greater understanding
Did you know that your mind processes eleven million separate pieces of information per second? That number is astonishing and hard to believe, right? That’s because 10,999,960 of those pieces of information are processed within your subconscious mind and never rise to the level of conscious thought.
Why does this statistic matter? It’s because our minds naturally gravitate towards believing that our own personal experiences are actually universal experiences; that our path through life is shared by everyone else. The reality is very different, however, and we must learn to consciously be aware that universal experience isn’t an accurate way to view the world.
At one year out from the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, Black and Brown people are still being murdered by police. Why isn’t there greater outrage, specifically from White people? It’s exactly because of the tendency to believe that our experiences are universal. “I’ve never had a problem interacting with police” can quickly become “therefore other people don’t either or the situation is overblown.”
How do we press back against our tendency to believe in the universal experience?
Asking the Right Questions
When I am working with people to help them understand that our experiences aren’t necessarily universal, I challenge them to ask themselves a very important five-word question: “Can I consider the possibility?” Can they consider the possibility that Black and Brown people have a very different experience in life in this country than White people? Can they consider the possibility that the statistics are true and that their own personal experiences don’t reflect the experience others have?
When you ask this question, you are challenging your subconscious thoughts by bringing them forward into your conscious mind. You are considering the possibility that injustices and disparities do exist, even if you have never personally experienced them.
The next question to ask is: “What would it mean if it were true?” By asking this follow-up question, you are telling your mind to extrapolate from the basic premise that our experiences aren’t actually universal. “What would it mean if it were true that a person from a different racial group was having a very different experience in my workplace than I am?” How would that impact their ability to feel safe at work? How would that impact their feeling that their work is valued, respected, and recognized for what it is?
The universal experience is a fiction our subconscious minds prefer, because it fits with our past experiences and reassures us that the world is as we see it and believe it to be. By questioning our subconscious beliefs and challenging them with conscious thought, we can open our minds to the “differences that make a difference”, and that’s the first step to real change and progress.
About Sara Taylor
Sara Taylor earned a master’s degree in Diversity and Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. She served as a leadership and diversity specialist at the University of Minnesota for five years and as director of diversity and inclusion for Ramsey County, Minnesota for three years.
Sara is the founder and president of deepSEE Consulting and has worked with companies as large as Coca-Cola, General Mills, 3M Company, AARP, and numerous others. She has a new book, “Filter Shift: How Effective People See the World,” that explores how our unconscious is actually making choices and decisions for us, all without our knowing — and how to change that.
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