Why we all discriminate (and it’s not why you think)

 

The lines are the same length, but the illusion is that the one above is longer.

It’s an old illusion and as I’m sure you’ve seen it before, you can measure them with a ruler and prove they’re the same.

So why do you keep looking at them with the nagging feeling that they’re not?

[photo monkey thinking]

 

It’s all to do with your instinctive brain and your reasoning brain. Prof Steve Peters goes into this in great detail in his excellent book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, and it describes how our brain has two separate parts when it comes to making decisions. Your reasoning brain is your human side, the part that reasons things through, uses logic to make its decisions, and generally takes its time. For most major decisions, ‘human side’ does the job of taking all the evidence, weighing it up then directing a decision.

Sometimes, however, the human side feels a bit lazy. For some people, this happens a lot. When that happens, the instinctive brain, otherwise known as your ‘Chimp side’ takes over.

[photo people running from bear]

What does that mean? Simply, that Chimp acts on impulse, it doesn’t want to do the boring job of ‘working through stuff’ and simply wants to make the decision and then move on. Our inner Chimp was useful back when we were cavemen and there was a lot of danger about, so sitting around reasoning whether to run away from the bear wouldn’t have been useful. In general there are not so many dangers nowadays, but Chimp still forms a major part of the thinking process.

The problem is, Chimp’s level of education is the same as it always has been, ie, takes things at face value. One of those values is, ‘different is bad’ and the tendency to see the world as such is emphasized by family, peer groups, media and so on. There’s a saying, ‘People like people like them’ and people indeed will seek out company that looks, behaves and holds similar views to them. It’s obvious when you think about it. Who wants to spend all their time around other people who don’t agree with them? It would be exhausting.

Therefore, if you’re interviewing two candidates for a job, and they both have exactly the same CV and experience, but one of them is black and the other is white, and your entire world experience has taught you to trust one and not the other, what do you think will happen?

The worst thing is that while we know that we should not be judging by the differences we see , that is , literally, face value, that instinctive part of the brain is screaming at us, ‘but they are different – just look at them! Pick the one you like!!!’ That’s what’s happening when you look at those lines in the diagram. You know they are the same. We all know they are the same.

 

[photo black and white hands holding]

It takes an enormous amount of willpower to subdue that impulse and be entirely objective. As I’ve discussed in other posts, we only have a limited amount of willpower in an entire day and once it’s used up, it’s just quicker to take the easy option, the one that involves less thinking, the one that is most comfortable and consistent with our world view.

This is true for every kind of discrimination that exists, be it racial, sexual, disability, you name it. They are all just another word for different. So don’t feel bad if you’ve been discriminated against, it’s not that they’re necessarily a bad person. We’ve just got a few more thousand years of brain evolution to go.

You also shouldn’t feel bad if you see that someone is trying to treat you the same, but you think deep down they don’t instinctively want to. You can’t change that instinct – but you can help them, by acknowledging that they are trying, and respect that effort.

In the meantime, help the process along with peace, love, and understanding. That’s a language every culture understands.

Am I Ugly?

Did you know 10,000 people Google this question every month?

[photo woman looking in mirror]

 

Meaghan Ramsey on Ted Talks discussed this very subject recently. This set me thinking about, firstly, who was asking this question, and what kind of mind-set would you be in at the time? As someone in the very business of selling beauty, or at least a version of it, I know that this theme of beauty and ugly is prominent in the minds of my potential clients.

 

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those asking are female. And, the vast majority of those are teenagers. Some are as young as 6 years old. A lot of our younger generation are deeply worried about their appearance. This is only exacerbated by the rise of the selfie culture, the fact that how things look are vastly more important than the real person, and the constant pressure to ‘look good’ is permeating into the mind-set of younger and younger people.

 

Whether you are still a teen or not, how we perceive ourselves has a huge influence on how we look upon life and, most importantly, how others perceive us. It all comes from within. But the pressures of a peer group, themselves influenced by a media culture obsessed with how things look, are driving forces in the increasing mentality of ugly/beauty. It’s being forced down your throat like junk food that you know is bad for you and barely counts as food, but if it’s the only option, that’s all you’re going to eat.

 

But it doesn’t have to be the only option.

[photo woman looking at phone in mirror while upset]

Emily (aged 13)

Emily has just turned 13 and like many of her friends, is into clothes, music, spending hours on the phone, all the usual teenage stuff. She’s friendly and has a good home life. Her parents are reasonably well off and she’s not lacking in any of the basic necessities. But Emily doesn’t like herself, she thinks she’s ugly. She’s also feeling really inadequate. What is this perception based upon?

 

For one, she just Googled London fashion week, as many of her friends have been talking about it. It’s the same this year as it has been every year, rake-like models in ridiculous clothes surrounded by armies of hair and makeup artists before tottering about on a stage, while the captions and commentary talk endlessly about how wonderful it all is. (Do you remember the sporadic campaigns to get ‘real women’ into fashion shoots? How’s that working out?)

 

This year though, Emily’s new phone allows her to see all the details up close. She’s also now a fully-fledged user of Twitter and Instagram now she’s reached qualifying age (a number of her friends have been using Twitter for much longer, but that’s a story for another day). So all her friends and a lot of people she doesn’t know at all are all talking about how amazing these models look.

 

Think about that last sentence. It doesn’t matter that most of the comments are from complete strangers and may well have been set up by PR companies. The point is, the social pressure is already there.

 

It’s being talked about, so it must, by definition, be important.

 

Emily starts looking for ways she can emulate the ‘beautiful’. She obviously can’t afford the clothes, but makeup is quite easily within reach, either at home or with her pocket money. Plus, she’s noticed how some of her classmates are now wearing a lot more makeup in school. This attracts attention. Not necessarily good attention, but there’s nothing worse, at any age, than being ignored. So Emily starts putting more make up on as well. She spends hours in front of the mirror trying different things out, all the while with one thought in the back of her mind –

‘I don’t look pretty enough’

[photo sad looking Bridget Jones type pic looks out of window]

 

Jessica (aged 23)

Jessica works in a bank and earns a decent living. She likes good clothes and meeting up with her friends for drinks. She likes clothes shopping and a good proportion of her monthly earning goes on clothes. Her flatmate Mila also has similar interests.

 

Jessica commonly scans the magazines at the supermarket checkout to keep up with celebrity ‘gossip’ because, let’s face it, there’s lots of fun in seeing who’s got into and out of relationships, who’s on holiday in the Bahamas, who’s just gained weight or lost weight (always women, strangely).

 

The thing about the latter, is that there is always something inherently bad about the women who are in this latter category, something to be mocked or judged. Just harmless gossip, right?

 

It must be acceptable; there are about 10 magazines on the shelf all about the same kind of thing. Jessica sees other people reading as well as they queue up to pay. She knows, she’s certain, that those same people are looking at her and noting that she too has put on a little weight recently.

 

Jessica is feeling down now. Mila tries to cheer her up over dinner and wine. Jessica feels a bit better, but then Mila’s boyfriend comes around and they disappear off to her room together. Jessica can hear them talking and laughing and now she feels more down. She hasn’t had a boyfriend for a while and when she looks on Facebook, all her friends seem to be talking what they’re doing with their boyfriends too. She sits in her room and thinks

‘Why can’t I find a man? There must be something wrong with me’

 

 

Here we have two people who have, by social programming, developed feelings of deep inadequacy yet have nothing to feel inherently inadequate about. They are taking their self-esteem cues from external influences and since they have no control over what those influences might be, this perpetuates a feeling of dependency, poor self-image and lack of control. Does this sound familiar?

[photo hands in cuffs]

The first step in breaking free of this prison of social programming is recognising it exists.

 

All around, 24 hours a day, messages are fed to us about how we are lacking something, and we need to get it in order to feel complete. It usually means we have to buy it, whatever it is. Have you ever felt that? This is how the worlds of advertising and marketing work, the basic tenet of inadequacy.

You need Product X, and you are a poorer person without it’.

 

And marketing is now aimed squarely at women, because it is easiest to take aim at their self-esteem.

 

This wasn’t always the case – advertising was rarely aimed at women in the past because they didn’t have the spending power. Times have changed and women earn and spend independently of their husbands or spouses. So now the focus is not on who has the money to spend, but who can we make feel inadequate? It’s not that men are immune to this, oh no. But look at the statistics – 70% of all spending power is now in the hands of women. No wonder advertisers have changed their focus. And no-one ever sold a product to someone by making them feel good about themselves.

 

Take the first step. Recognise you are being screwed with. Take the time to notice all those subtle and not-so-subtle messages that ram home the idea, over and over, that you’re not good enough. Once it’s entirely clear that you can take the power back, you will open up a whole new way of thinking.

 

Instead of asking ‘am I ugly?’

Start asking ‘what is it about me that’s so powerful and attractive that makes others so desperate to control me?’

There are 3 times as many search results in Google to ‘Why am I ugly’ than ‘Why am I powerful’.

Start asking better quality questions of yourself if you really want better answers.

By the way, we’re not done with Jessica or Emily yet.

 

 

To be continued…

 

Here comes the rain again

 

[photo woman with umbrella]

As I write, we in the UK are in the midst of the wettest winter for 250yrs or so, and it’s pretty much the only thing in the news right now. So it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the rain has caused a fair few problems in parts of the country and for the last few weeks we’re reminded of some very sad pictures of destroyed homes and buildings, people sheltering in temporary accommodation, streets turned into rivers. Not to mention lots of very irate people, understandably when you’ve suffered a great loss.

I can’t help notice whenever there’s an interview on TV with a victim the storms, almost invariably the question comes up of ‘Who’s fault do you think this is?’ – to which various answers come up, which I’ve categorised as follows

1)      The Government – ie the authorities are supposed to protect us and are not or haven’t responded quickly enough

2)      The Army or emergency services – those who are bringing supplies or sandbags to the areas affected

3)      The Corporations – faceless organisations that contributed to global climate changes that led to extreme weather conditions

4)      God

Now you may have your own views on who should have done what and when. If I were a homeowner whose house was full of water right now and completely unliveable, I’d be feeling quite hard done by right now. Thankfully although I’ve faced various adversities in my life this is not one of them. I did however, at those periods in my life, also look around and think, ‘who can I blame for this?’ It’s understandable, it’s an easy response, and it takes the burden of responsibility from my shoulders.

One thing I’ve learned from my research that people have a different way of looking at events that occur in their lives. When something bad happens, it’s invariably due to ‘bad luck’ or outside influences. However if something good happens, then in some way, they’ve had a hand in that good fortune even if that couldn’t really have been the case. It’s an interesting psychology that tends to be permeate not only into personal but also business psychology, and it has been shown in many studies. Why should that be? Is it simply that they are wired to explain all random acts in this way, or they’re led to believe this from past life experiences?

Back to news reporting and finding the person to blame in all this adversity. There might be some catharsis in this, and it allows our reporter to turn back to the camera and conclude that if someone had done something (more pertinently, someone else) then the situation would be different. Obviously no-one could have predicted how severe the weather was going to be this month (or if they did, it wasn’t widely reported). Even if they had, there’s no accounting for extreme and uncontrollable events. I don’t think any of our victims told the TV guys that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but one of those things that we simply have to deal with. Or if they did it probably didn’t make the news. Selective journalism? Surely not?

Where I’m going with this is that the successful people in life with a strong mindset, recognise 2 things.

1)      Random events are just that.

2)      They take ‘ownership’ of events, ie their decisions in life have contributed to what occurs in their lives, good and bad.

You might ask, how can anyone take ownership of random events, such as the weather? Obviously you can’t, but the decision of how to deal with those events is entirely within your personal sphere. I’m reminded of a story of a lady whose child was born with a severe learning difficulty which of course was deeply distressing for the family. However, by meeting other families facing the same difficulties, forming and running a support group, travelling all over the country lecturing and supporting  others on parenting skills and meeting experts and celebrities with similar problems, she has spoken about how blessed she is to have brought so many interesting and strong people into her life and raised valuable funds and awareness for disabled children. She knows that her son’s life would have been easier for him if he hadn’t been disabled, but she also knows her life has changed and been enriched in ways she could never have imagined before. She could have sat on her hands and railed at the world at how this terrible thing had happened to her, but she took ownership instead. It’s an amazing story, and this lady had no special teaching or lecturing skills beforehand, nor a big group of people in her life who were expert at dealing with sick children.

The takeaway from this story

1)      We can’t always predict what will happen in our future

2)      By being decisive, we have a better chance of predicting our own future

3)      By owning our decisions, we retain control of how we feel about our future.

Too many people give away their control too quickly because it absolves responsibility and it’s the easy way to go. But the ‘reactive person’ will always leave their feelings at the whims of other people or outside events. Choose instead to be the ‘proactive person’ who retains their own power. It’s a much healthier way to go, and it’s the way of the leader, not the follower. So go out there and be a leader today. Otherwise, you can always blame it on the rain.

Thanks for stopping by everyone, and have a great day.