I ride my bike down to White Rock Lake quite often. I almost always go early in the mornings. Almost every time I ride, there is a Hispanic lady running down the path. She’s a tiny lady, petite and fit. She jogs slow and steady and makes it look easy; my efforts and attempts at jogging tell me it’s not.
As I rode by her the other day, my mind wandered and I pondered her life...How is she able to get out of the house to run every single morning?! I wonder what her husband and kids think of her leaving so early every day. I bet her husband has to leave for work super early...landscaping or construction...and I wonder if he expects her to cook breakfast every morning. What about kids? Who’s watching them while she’s gone? I wonder if her husband approves of her running each morning? Why do should he be “approving” her running anyway?? Maybe she’s a stay-at-home mom so she has time to run.
I had just stereotyped her entire life in less than 15 seconds as I rode by her. Where did I get all of those thoughts….and how did I get that from a lady running along a path to the lake??
I thought about the other women I see jogging. What stories do I create about them in my head?
I pictured a White woman jogging and began to ponder her life. I tried to think about the way I would construct her story. I came up with a much different picture:
That’s awesome that she gets up so early every day. I wonder how she manages to get up early every morning and run. I bet she has a demanding job and this is her stress relief. I wonder if she has kids. I bet she chose to hold off on having kids so she could focus on her job. That’s probably what allows her the freedom to run every morning. I bet her husband is encouraging.
Doing that forced me to think about how my brain automatically characterizes and caricatures people so fast and so subconsciously that it impacts the way I see them and what I expect of them before I even know them.
What I want to believe is that those thoughts are harmless, but I know they aren’t.
I want to believe if both of these women applied for a job with me, I would look at their resume and treat them equally, but I know my thoughts impact my decision-making...whether those thoughts are conscious or not.
Based on my thinking, I know I would assume the Hispanic lady probably had more responsibilities at home and a husband who expects more of her. I would assume that she wouldn’t have as much time for her job, even though I couldn’t legally ask her questions like that. Conversely, those split-second thoughts would probably lead me to also assume that the White woman is more likely to be a career woman who would dedicate herself to the job and would have the time to be devoted without distractions or financial struggles.
Metacognition. It’s a concept I learned in grad school. “Thinking about your thinking.” I learned it as something we educators need to help children do. When children gain awareness of their mental state, they achieve at higher levels.
However, it works for adults as well. Being aware of our thinking and understanding how we process information impacts how and what we learn. Being aware of our thoughts helps us adjust and regulate our behaviors.
I obviously still have these thoughts. My hope is that being aware of them allows me to confront my thoughts and actively reverse them. It’s kind of like walking backward on a people mover in the airport. It’s not enough just to stand still; I have to actively and aggressively walk backward so I don’t simply get carried forward to a destiny I don’t want to reach.