A Conversation on Hidden Bias

How it shapes our lives and world.

On common ground—Leading diversity experts (inset) René Redwood and Howard J. Ross discuss how we can transform the unconscious workings of bias to contribute to peace, Washington, D.C., July 16. Photo: Philp Roseberg.

by Mary Ishimoto Morris

The following is a report on the SGI-USA Culture of Peace Distinguished Speaker Series, “A Conversation on Hidden Bias—How it Shapes Our Lives and World,” held July 16 at the SGI-USA Washington, D.C., Culture Center. This program aimed to support the community in addressing the troubling ongoing outbreaks of violence in our society. View the event at

sgi_37675125608How do our experiences shape what we see in the world—and what we don’t? Depending on our lters, said Howard J. Ross, author of Everyday Bias—Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives, “the same thing can appear differently. We see the world the way we expect to see the world. Background creates context, and context is everything—we don’t think the way we think we think.”

Mr. Ross, a leading diversity consultant and expert on the workings of unconscious bias, said that having bias helps us survive. “It can be life-saving or life-destroying. The question is what do we do with it, how aware are we of how it impacts our behavior?”

Describing how we are constantly being fed messages by the media, accentuated by social media, we need to understand “the echo chamber we’re living in” and take on personal responsibility, he said. We can do so by: 1. acknowledging the reality people are dealing with; 2. exploring how fear is impacting us; 3. practicing telling the truth about our biases free of guilt; 4. engaging “the other”—asking someone you disagree with what experiences led them to feel the way they do; 5. admitting or apologizing for misunderstanding another; and 6. being an ally.

“Our joint liberation is what we’re after,” he concluded, “and the only way we can do that is by creating communities of mutual support.”

René Redwood, who has been honored as a top African American business leader and is an expert on diversity and cultural competence, engaged the audience in thinking of ways we can contribute to peace, such as being open to others. “When we become aware of our bias, we get to choose what we do with it,” she said. “We can continue behaviors that deny the humanity of others, or we can change that to welcoming, embracing and seeing the value, dignity and love in others with unconditional positive regard.”

“As a nation, we’re grieving,” she continued. “I would venture to say that anyone who’s been paying attention to the news has at least some pain, some fear, some moments of thinking: I can’t believe this is still happening. How do we begin to heal? We want to be able to have an honest exchange, to listen not only with our ears but also with our hearts. As long as we continue to recognize that we’re here together, one people, one earth, we have an opportunity to move beyond the grief, the fear, the terror. Our challenge is how do we instill that [awareness] in our institutions?”

In response to the resignation people in society have, Mr. Ross projected onto a screen images of men and women in history—from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk and Shirley Chisholm—who have helped create positive, lasting change.

“And in the center are you and I,” he said, emphasizing that there is a community of people striving for positive change. “It’s a community and the real question we need to ask ourselves is what legacy will we leave? I know it’s hard, but the one thing we have is our ability to believe that something else is possible—hope. Don’t stop believing.”

Mr. Ross later said: “My own explorations into Buddhism have taught me new ways to see myself in relationship to the world and have convinced me that the only hope we have is that each of us works on the peace within ourselves, while we are trying to address the ills of society. As long as we are unconsciously coming from our own wounding, we will be stuck in the cycle of fear.”

Ms. Redwood said of the Culture of Peace event: “I could sense a true willingness and desire for us to nd a way to be at peace, not only individually, but importantly, together, as a collective. That’s so different from many of the places in which I speak. The feedback I’ve gotten is that I spoke to the heart. That was my goal, because we are feeling people, not just head people. So often this conversation is just based in our heads, even with the anger. Sometimes we just don’t have the language to translate what we feel, so being able to give people more language on how to talk about the grief, the angst and the sadness around the issues of race or whatever the differences might be—here I sensed a true will. I wanted it to be heartfelt, because that’s how we create peace.”


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