I am increasingly impressed by the power of habit and learned culture to filter our thoughts and perceptions. We have come to live, it seems, in perceptual boxes built from the culture we live in and the behaviors we have learned to help us survive within that culture. Our language, thoughts, attitudes and responses, if not wholly the product of experience, are at the least substantially moderated by it; and much of what feels to be our individually unique experience has considerably more overlap with the experience of our family, friends and complete strangers than we are inclined to notice.

At the same time, the strong tendency is to imagine that others experience life the way we experience it, that others will use thought processes similar to our own—which leads us to feel con- fused when others reach very different conclusions from the ones we reach. Our puzzling human natures at once provide the ground for community and common purpose and the seeds of conflict and divisiveness.

My own thoughts about this are influenced by my efforts to understand and overcome racism. To
my shame I find that, despite efforts to dismiss them, I continue to harbor negative attitudes and stereotypical beliefs about people of color that arise into my consciousness. These attitudes and judgments seem to come from nowhere and are certainly unwelcome but that makes them all the more difficult to dismiss or resolve.

What makes racism particularly painful for me is how it confounds my confidence in the belief that
everyone has worth and deserves to be treated with respect and appreciation. My racist thoughts and attitudes are obstacles to seeing the good in others and also lead me to challenge my own sense of worth as a person who would have these thoughts and attitudes.

There are, I believe, grounds for hope for improvement. Recently I had the privilege to attend an Undoing Racism workshop offered through The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. It was a three day affair over the course of a weekend that brought together a mix of people–primarily people working in human services settings—and the experience was both challenging and uplifting. Seeing one’s own biases is difficult to do, and it was especially helpful to have time set aside to listen to people’s stories and to learn new ways to view experience from a perspective that is different from my own. A stronger awareness of unearned privilege, for example, provides a lens that helps me view the uneven playing field a bit more clearly and help me counter negative stereotypes and judgments.

I recommend that you find a way to experience an Undoing Racism workshop for yourself and that you also consider the possibility that racism is one of a number of biases that are affecting your efforts to live ethically. Our political beliefs, attitudes about economic justice and our environmental awareness are similarly constructed and sustained by our limited experience and broadening our awareness and developing our capacity to view life from perspectives different from our own may help us make headway toward greater understanding and more effective cooperation.

— Bart Worden