Yesterday I was working on a project. This required me to search a bunch of photos I have stored in my laptop from over the years.  I am kind of a laptop packrat since I will save anything that strikes me as potentially helpful to me or others.  Scrolling through pictures and screenshots I found this quote from a poster I saw on my travels.  It said the “The Bend In the Road is Not the End of the Road – Unless you Fail to Make the Turn” with a photograph of a car on a wicked mountain switchback.

I began my career as a speaker and trainer teaching change implementation.  The quote struck a deep chord within me.  Over the last few weeks businesses have been forced into more changes that they could have imagined.  Some businesses, like Amazon and grocery stores have thrived.  So have most veterinary hospitals, as people sheltered in place and decided to add a pet to their quarantine or spent lots of time with the ones they had and discovered lumps and limps they had been to busy to notice.  Veterinary teams responded by creating parking lot protocols, dividing staff into teams to avoid shutting down in case a team member became sick and many forward thinkers added new technology like telehealth to their toolbox.  Change happened FAST.

Change is always stressful.  Our mind is an intentional “energy hog” using about 20% of all the energy we consume and produce in our body. It is for that reason we create habits more technically known as neuropathways.   Habits can be good – like brushing your teeth every morning, or they can be bad – like smoking. Habits conserve energy which is important if you are a caveman and do not know when your next meal will be available.

Work habits are what we develop when we know our job and can perform the task without conscience effort.  Our mind is left to work out more complex issues and habit manages the routine stuff.  COVID-19 forced all of us to break out of our habit and disrupt our routine.  This creates a lot of mental stress and discomfort.  It also makes us tired and grumpy.  It does the same to clients as many have noticed.

But habit can also lead to implicit bias.  Once again, our “lazy” brain is looking for shortcuts.  We create stereotypes and profiles in our mind and never revisit them to examine them for truth.

It is a natural human brain function to “sort” things because our mind is bombarded by hundreds and thousands of stimuli, images, smells and textures a day.  To have to consciously think about all these would be overwhelming and paralyzing.  But we must always be aware of what our brain is doing and if this ‘rapid judgement’ default is correct or simply something we picked up as kids from those around us who were wrong thinking. Everybody has implicit biases based on the culture we were raised in.

Our country is in a time of civil unrest.  Incorrect implicit bias sorting got us here. If you are unfamiliar with the term Implicit Bias, we use the term to describe when we have “attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A commonplace example of this is seen in studies showing that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it”. It is only by retraining our “lazy” brain to not accept the false truths we have developed and examining them for accuracy can we stop defaulting to lies.  There are no “all’ statements when it comes to humans.

I was a young child in the 60’s and have seen and lived through social disruption (and 3 pandemics).  People of color I know well were shot in the race riots during that time. I was in junior high when schools were integrated.  I am also from the South (which by the way has its own attached implicit bias).  I remember Jim Crow and the first black couple who came to eat in our restaurant.  I can still see them sitting in the dining room rather than getting takeout at the back door. The lady wore a light blue dress with a “Jackie Kennedy” pillbox hat.   Women were “allowed” by society to be teachers, waitresses, nurses, secretaries, or housewives. That was about it unless you weren’t white – then you could be a maid or work on a farm. The Glass Ceiling was fully enforced.  Girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. (My first sit in was to protest this – I was in the 7th grade).  But things did improve, not enough, but believe me they were worse than now because so much of what happened was hidden under the rug.  No 24 hour news cycle or social media to document the horrors.

Being a young child at that time in history shaped my thinking. I listened to Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers and Gloria Steinem.   I became a women’s rights advocate, determined to be a female professional.  Since I was raised in a restaurant kitchen, my everyday normal from birth was to be surrounded by people of color.  When you are five – people are just people you love in different shades.  So, when I was instructed early in my career by one of my former employers to “not hire blacks because they were too much trouble” I ignored the instruction and hired them anyway.  At another job had a Cinco de Mayo celebration to honor the culture of the Hispanic members of our team.  I have mentored young women and partnered in projects with POC.  I refused to do business with people who I discovered were racists. None of this is enough but it was what I had the power to control.   

We are all human with equal potential for good and evilEducation and examination of self, getting out of our comfort zone to get to know people who are different from us, listening without judgement to others is what leads us to enlightenment.  Change is uncomfortable, and habits are hard to break.  But we cannot let a default to laziness by a brain function based on food scarcity in primitive man be the reason we do not work to change our thinking.

This is the kind of thinking that killed George Floyd, that says immigrants are taking our jobs, that keeps women paid less than men for equal work, that says women who are raped are at fault and AIDS is a punishment for being gay.  ALL this thinking is going to take us off the “end of the road” because we are failing to make the correct turn.  Folks, we are at the bend in the curve – we must make changes to our thinking or crash down the mountain and die in the inferno.

Want to test yourself for Implicit Biases?  Check out this Harvard study. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html