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Curb Prejudice with Humility By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

In the picture we see a uniformed police officer running behind a man in plain clothes. The obvious interpretation is that the white policeman is chasing the black man. That is not the case.

In fact, the two men in the picture belong to the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard). Together they chase a suspect who’s out of the frame. Scotland Yard used this photograph in a poster to attract black candidates. The campaign creators  speculated that most people would make the wrong inference about the picture and posted it with the caption: “Another example of police prejudice, or another example of your prejudice?”

Selfism

Prejudice is an unconscious judgment, a generalization impermeable to disconfirming information. Although racism is chastised in business, we suffer from another kind of prejudice I call “selfism”.

Selfism is the unconscious belief that I’m right because I’m me and whoever doesn’t agree with me is wrong, the belief that I see the world as it is and whoever doesn’t see it my way is mistaken, the conviction that I’m the good guy and whoever doesn’t think like (or look like) me is a bad guy.

Selfism makes you refractory to opposing views, to challenging data, to different beliefs. It is impossible to interact and learn from others if you’re a selfist.

Productive Generalizations

It’s necessary to warn against racist and selfist generalizations, but let’s not throw the baby out with the dirty water.

You can’t live your life without adding meaning or drawing conclusions based on assumptions and generalizations. What you can do is improve your life and your interactions by putting in practice five guidelines:

  1. Realize that your observations, opinions, and actions are not the obvious truth; they depend on your mental model. Realize that another person, with a different mental model, could make different observations, hold different opinions and take different actions.
  2. Notice that you know what you see, what you think, what you feel, what you want, and the impact of the other’s actions on you. You don’t know what the other sees, what he thinks, what he feels, what he wants, and the impact of your actions on him. On the other hand, the other knows what he sees, what he thinks, what he feels, what he wants, and the impact that your actions have on him. He doesn’t know what you see, what you think, what you feel, what you want, and the impact of his actions on you.
  3. Inquire about the other’s experience and reasoning. Ask questions that invite her to climb down the ladder and reveal her inferences, assumptions, and generalizations. Try to understand the mental process that takes her from observations to actions. Ask for examples and illustrations to ground her abstractions in concrete data.
  4. Share your experience and reasoning. Climb down your ladder openly and reveal your inferences, assumptions, and generalizations. Explain the mental process that takes you from observations to actions. Offer examples and illustrations to ground your abstractions in concrete data.
  5. Verify your inferences about the other’s feelings and intentions. Don’t believe you can read her mind. Ask open questions and give her the opportunity to disconfirm your beliefs.

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