Have you ever asked yourself how programmed you were by the environment you live in, the news you watch, the books you read, the people you talk to – let alone your personal history? Have you ever considered the possibility that in your normal waking state, you may be nothing but a collection of accumulated beliefs, acting out your programming in the world, all the while thinking you are utterly objective and free?
A few years ago, this point came home to me very clearly, as I was doing some research on gender equality. I came across Harvard’s Project Implicit, featuring online tests assessing a person’s implicit – or in other words subconscious – perceptions of the world around them. I was intrigued and took the test related to gender biases. It asks you to alternately pair women and men’s names with words related to business and family life, respectively. By measuring the time it takes you to make these pairings, the test detects any hesitancy on your part, indicative of an internal stumbling block in making a particular association.
Here I was, staunch defender of equal opportunities for women in the workplace, and lo and behold, it appeared that I had a moderate gender bias, favoring the association of female names with family matters and male names with business and careers… It was an eye-opening moment, and whilst one could always argue about potential flaws in the test’s methodology, the broader point is: we all have biases. Many biases. And usually, we are not aware of them.
In this age of soon-to-be-augmented humans, where the potential of installing ‘apps’ directly into our brains doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore, I ask myself: before considering external augmentations, wouldn’t it be wise to become aware of the beliefs that are already programmed into our minds, the ones we are unaware of, the ones we might even whole-heartedly deny? The ones that subtly influence our behaviors and our decisions and are contrary to the values we think we hold?
The good news is: not only is it possible to become aware of our subconscious programs – whether through astute observation, meditation, psychological tests such as this one, or a host of other methods enabling us to peek into our subconscious mind – but it is also possible to change our programming and align our deepest beliefs with the values we stand for.
I took the test again today, five years down the line, and guess what? In full disclosure: my gender bias when it comes to career and family went down from moderate to slight… It seems that I haven’t completely de-conditioned myself, but there is hope!