2016 Message From the Desk of Joy Gilfilen, President of the Coalition
Bias is real. Our bias is our viewpoint, the angle, the filters through which we see our world. We all have them. How we work with them to achieve results is a choice. In turn our biases affect how we relate to and affect the world around us. Our choice to manage our biases in a destructive way or in a constructive or productive way develops our personal core operating systems. Ultimately our biases influence and eventually ripple out to produce the results we get in life.
This is true in personal, societal, business or civic venues. Biases create happiness, sadness, misery and ripple effects for generations.
This is a critical thing to learn when we enter the world of incarceration. It matters when we enter the world of politics, business, family and cultural dynamics. It matters when we want to change ourselves and the world around us.
When I decided to enter this world to examine the problems of our society, I had no idea how many biases and judgments I had imbedded in my personal operating system. I had no experience at all with the world of arrests and incarceration and criminalization. I was naive, and therefore preconditioned to beliefs that were given to me by society, by the news, by the stories of others.
I found out that my pre-conditioning and the stories that are told are not true. I found out that I knew virtually nothing about the real world of mass incarceration, the real world of life after arrest. It was all hidden from my awareness. And I had no idea how these pre-conditioned and unknown biases were costing me, our families, our businesses, and in turn our society dearly.
I woke up and changed my viewfinder. Here is a snapshot of what I have learned since I started on this journey in 2010.
1) Societal dysfunction reflects individual errors in thinking and the “bias” of prior leadership actions. Mass incarceration is a habit pattern (bias) in our culture today that was established by policies created 40 or more years ago (some say thousands of years ago).
These pre-conditions and subsequent policies have been compounded and expanded over time. Ongoing decisions made by people who were doing what they were taught by others based on their biases, create layers of bias. Laws, judgments and more policies were initiated upon flawed policy, upon flawed policy.
Today we are in a mess because of historical biases, unchallenged.
I discovered how the original policies were informed by certain beliefs that were created by certain attitudes, actions and prior biases that were never examined for truth and real consequences. Today, we have learned that mass incarceration policies were based on flawed beliefs and false truths.
The proof is in the pudding as they say. As a consequence of our pre-conditioning, today our biases have created a failure nation. Our freedoms, the very roots of our society, are being destroyed by the biases. Today 25% of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in America…yet we only have 5% of the world’s population. That means our biases are killing the very free enterprise spirit that used to make us strong. Frankly, I have concluded that we are in effect addicted to a contrarian economy game that has grown from a flawed belief – that has evolved into an economic bias. A flawed belief that punishment works, and in turn that jailing people is a good economic strategy. Time has shown that it doesn’t. In fact, profiting from punishment is at root is a ‘bad’ idea for it creates a self-destructive bias towards blaming, shaming and gaming the system. The bias skewed the system to support failure.
The statistics and knowledge now proves that mass incarceration has created the deep poverty we are dealing with today. The systemic dysfunction has created an imbalance where we pay more to fail people than to help them succeed. This is upside down, is destructive to society, destroys free enterprise and in short is unhealthy behavior training.
In effect, our society has created a bad habit that we reinforce with money. We have created a dysfunctional economic result that is at the root of generational poverty in America, and it creates anger, stress and illness. The abuse that comes from unnecessary incarceration has decimated entire generations of our youth and created imbalances in our social structures, and gaps in thinking.
This has led to hopelessness, suicides, more and more people on anti-depressants and a depressed society, a depressed economy.
To change this pattern, we have to look at our systems, our biases, and correct them to be life-enhancing not self-destructing. The good news is that we can examine our core beliefs and core truths to reconstruct non-productive biases and build new habit patterns that are regenerative and productive, not degenerative and destructive.
Biases work the same way in our personal and business lives.
We become renewing and self-constructing or we become self-destructing. We develop habit patterns of thinking and reacting that form our future results. These are efficiency skills. These are learned skills that lead into failure patterns or success patterns. It is like riding a bicycle – at first it is hard, then it gets easier, and eventually we become biased in favor of bicyles and against heavy use of cars.
To change our set-points, our biases, we can re-examine our beliefs and our biases for truth. We can look at other viewpoints to discover other ways of seeing things, to look for what works better, so that we can re-program how we think and what we do to become more productive.
This is especially true after people are traumatized by arrest, courtroom behavior, then incarceration. They develop an emotionally charged reaction, a pattern of thinking that is established by the extreme nature of the experience. It colors the rest of our lives.
Changing our Biases is a Learned Skill
Learning to disconnect from pre-established bias limitations is a learned skill. It is one of the greatest needs we have to learn ourselves.
Leadership requires this skill if we are to make a change for the better. In Whatcom County we are being challenged like never before, as are leaders across our nation and world. Learning to stand down from name calling, finger pointing and blaming others for where we are is a learned skill. Learning to stop violent and to stand up for a society wide correction is also a learned skill. Good quality leadership actions cause ripple effects. They speak for entire classes of people…so learning how to stop pre-judgement and polarizing people for bias is critical action.
In leadership, I have found it is useful to accept that bias is real. How we use our biases can be productive or non-productive. It is part of life, it is a natural part of learning to think and do things well. It is therefore systemic and endemic for our community. Like it or not, it is part of our survival training as children. It is a learned behavior that comes with learning how to discern, make a decision.
Bias is a form of discernment and good judgment that is necessary to our individual happiness. What would be called “good bias” helps us quickly make decisions that produce a certain type of results. “Bad biases” is when we beome reactionary and rigid and unable to take in new information. We have become pre-judgmental and start classifying things based on pre-conceived notions that do not help us grown, instead they cause harm to us. Harmful biases result in poor judgment – where we do things that might lead to incarceration and consequences we don’t like.
Eventually uncorrected poor judgment eventually produce a preponderance of,a nd a habit pattern of destructive behavior that becomes “bad” judgment. It produces destructive actions that instead produce unhappiness and a broken world.
All of us are subject to bias, create bias and respond to bias.
Our biases precede our results.
The problems arise when we become judgmental, prejudiced and calcified in our perceptions to the point that we cannot listen, learn or think about new information that is coming in. Then our useful biases become counter-productive. Our pre-set points become a negative force in our lives filtering out healthy choices. It is like an addiction to failure to fighting…it can get worse when we begin to attack, polarize and “judge” others for their biases (and not look at our own in reciprocity).
This polarizing pattern can exacerbate the reactionary condition of non-listening, and we can escalate violence, tension and trauma. Damages accrue as we stop the listening and learning process.
I have learned this by working with poverty, economics and human achievement issues in many different cultures of our community. I have discovered that I have my own personal biases and set points. And that is great to discover that I do not know what others know. The good news it that I can open my filters to others perceptions and learn new information.
Being ok. with my biases is a good thing, for it provides adaptability, discernment and the ability to take in new information. I honor the fact that I do have filters on what I want to know, can take in, are willing to learn about. I can choose what I want to take in at any given time. These are also called filters, or boundaries in a healthy environment, but are called ignorance or other names in a non-healthy situation. This is how we become masters at certain things. We can choose to become masterful criminals or masterful leaders. It is a choice we have.
Like it or not we have set points that we each have embedded in our physical bodies. We have learned behaviors that come from family conditioning, personal training, from our community, our surroundings, and our cultural or class history.
We are all – like it or not – individual, independent people with knowledge that accumulates over time. Some of it we intentionally gleaned. We know and may have set our viewfinders (our perspectives) on purpose to learn more in a certain area of interest. Other biases are hidden from view. They were pre-programmed and may be faulty and cause us to trip up and make destructive choices when they are not examined.
What I have discovered is how to diagram it out. It is a bit like a doing a wiring diagram so that we can uncover what amounts to faulty wiring in our listening, learning and applications systems. Said another way, is that we, as a people have developed systemic habit patterns (problems and opportunities) that rigidly set up our civic systems, our cultural norms, our economic, business and social behavior. These pre-assumptions and infrastructure patterns (mostly hidden and unseen) are causing real damage to real people in America today. Things ripple out from a core decision or pre-setting.
It is time to change our wiring diagrams for these biased systems.
It is time to do it consciously with deliberate intent to become decent, loving, considerate, life-enhancing people who take care of each other and our earth. We can set the programs to do it on purpose to heal, recover, restore integrity, rebuild and reconstruct a new society that works with honor and dignity.
Bias, abuse, polarizing, incarceration – labelling – are all different forms of abuse. The abuse becomes punishment and penalties, then more anger and more abuse – it has become a reactionary economically driven addiction in our culture today. We end up building up our skills in blaming, shaming and gaming the system. This does not work long term.
Yet, we see it everywhere around us. And it is time to stop this behavior, and start working to find new solutions and ideas. We can choose to build, lead and innovate all new results.
Some will yell that “your bias” (against me) is worse. Yes, maybe. Maybe not. It all depends, for most of us have absolutely no idea what other people’s set points or beliefs are, or how they got them.
Yes, some people have been abused or privileged more than others. This happens individually and as a group. Some cultures and classes of people have been abused and persecuted, isolated, shunned, shamed and blamed more than others. It hurts.
And maybe by comparison, some classes and groups get ‘privileges’ that also can shame, manipulate or damage them in a whole different way causing a whole different set of ripple effects that can limit their capacity to change, their happiness.
I am not minimizing any of this. Biases are real. It is inevitable that systems get set up based on them. Then the biases expand and they reflect and propagate the values of the industry, the class, the culture that went before. That is how life works.
Like it or not, biases are real, they are a survival and thrival mechanism.
That is what is real. None of us know what or why other peoples biases exist. To pre-judge them is a bias on our part. Learning how to open our minds, our hearts and our souls to listen and learn their viewpoint is also a learned skill. Learning how to listen for flaws in our thinking, in their thinking, for the mututal benefit of each other is a learned skill. Learning to think through the processes of bias for the purpose of transforming whatever conditions we are in today is a learned skill.
We can change. When we choose to stay closed to new input, and we do not take the responsibility to listen and learn based on new evidence, we are become biased into self-destructive behavior.
The good news is that at any time we can change our viewfinder, change our bias, change our capacity to learn fresh. Whenever we don’t like the results we are getting, we have the capacity to change our pre-settings. When we do this, we are productively biased.
As a result, we can learn to understand and work with the nature of change itself. We will go into our internal wiring diagrams and systems to find the key leverage points to change our internal programming.
Yelling doesn’t help people who are striving to change their biases.
I have found that having others yelling at us, or us yelling at others doesn’t help expedite the process. Emotionalizing the blaming and shaming of each other doesn’t help. Instead it is more useful to do our best to set aside the emotional charge, to come together in an open, safe space to hear the problems. It takes a skill set to let the hurt be expressed and be discharged.
Once we can do that, we can learn from each other where our set points might be off. As we do this we can co-discover the underlying root causes and the real dysbiosis. We can find our biases and change them.
When we can do this, we can find the tiny triggers and the emotional and belief systems problems that are rankling people. It is about listening, learning and discovering the elements that must be modified and figuring out what will work better.
In society’s case, I have found that we must build a restorative economy to change the social set point from self-destructive behavior to constructive behavior.
You can read more about this in our Stop Punishing Taxpayers, Start Rebuilding Community Report.
In our personal lives we can become biased to be life-affirming, life-enhancing, resilient and productive. From that we can change everything.
Establishing a success bias is critical if we have a history of a failure or abuse bias that we inherited from having a conviction history, from generational poverty, from our experiences as a certain race, culture or religion.
In personal, business and leadership work, the same principles apply.
We must learn how to change our biases to be productive, and then learn how to re-program and rebuild a pattern for correction. We must take RIGHT ACTION to modify them.
Inside each of these behavior systems is a habit pattern, backed up by a belief that must be re-examined for truth and consequences. When we get to that truth and see the consequences of retaining or modifying our belief, we are in a position to make a significant contribution. We can learn what is really true below the believed truth…and we can make an informed choice to change our belief.
As leaders in society, once we take that root bias examination and corrective action – then everything else changes. At that core foundational level, at that point of critical choice, is what I call being “At ChoicePoint”. The point where we find the point of optimal leverage – and making an adjustment at that point creates exponential power to change systems.
This is why restorative justice works. It is why trauma therapy works. We work at the critical leverage point to change our viewfinders, our prejudices, our reactions, our biases.
We can change our systems to change us so that we function on a different basis. Inevitably our social, cultural and economic wiring diagrams will sequentially change to adapt to a changed truth and a changed belief. Eventually our culture and learned behaviors change. Everything changes.
This is the kind of foundational work that must be done in our society to change our biases and our viewfinders. When we do this in a community, we, the people, can become more productive. We get more skilled the more we do it.
More and more happiness inevitably follows. Results show up in your world, and in the world around us. My bias is that this is good stuff. This is how we change our world.