Overcoming Bias in Practice

Originally published at: https://integrallife.com/overcoming-bias-in-practice/

What do we do when experiences of bias arise within our our practice, or even within our practice community? What is the best way to verify whether these biases are real in the first place, and overcome them when they are?

Thanks for this. The download button on the soundcloud section downloads the wrong file, “TheArtOfPractice-IntegralEnneagram”.

Should be fixed now :slight_smile:

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What a fascinating and insightful session. So much learning in there for those open to hearing it. Such bravery from Lisa and Aneesah. To open yourselves in such a way, to risk being accused of washing your dirty linen in public, yet going full throttle in public. Thank you.
Verily this was “teachers teaching teachers”. Awesome plaudits to you all.
And it was clearly so much more than “from the neck up”, as these sessions so easily can be.
So, if all of this is true, what did I learn and what am going to put into practice?
Confirmation that evolution is beautiful but not always pretty. Lisa and Aneesah owned and acknowledged their mistakes. Maybe I was beginning to be a bit embarrassed for them. Where was this going to go? To me, if a practice is going to be at the edge and help us grow, it has to be messy. If my buttons aren’t being pressed I might as well be sat watching adverts on tv. The grace with which Aneesah and Lisa held the space as each of them went on their internal voyages of discovery is worth watching on its own. I very much got the feeling that each was only able to do this because of the support of the other: If you are willing to look deep into your dark shadow and share it with me, the least I can do is hold this space in grace so you feel safe to do your work.
My life is about how I am right and letting everyone know this. I have fought tooth and nail to avoid opening myself to my privileges and biases. Let me say that when I first saw and heard Aneesah, I was flooded immediately with judgments and biases against her. Wow, was I rooting for Lisa to put her right! Have you ever tried to moderate one of these sessions? Do you know how difficult it is? You just can’t pander to everyone’s whims, get real!!
But this is real good Integral stuff. Rather, it was for me to get real, Aneesah and Lisa were already way ahead of me there.
This was not judgment and defence, this was gentle enquiry. The subject matter itself was enough to be real, gritty, challenging, hurtful, the process had to be something powerful to allow these two wonderful teachers to go exploring safely. Gentle enquiry, gentle reflection, yep, I was wrong I apologise. Gentle enquiry, gentle reflection I can see how our practice could be improved here… And so safe.
I will be taking this into my day to day life as a practice
And of course, the content. I learnt a lot about unconscious bias and privilege and how it plays out in these practice sessions (and therefore life). But that’s probably another post.

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Andrew, a sacred thank you for your honest open and generous reflection and sharing. I have a distinct sense that you were also navigating the seas of what got stirred up with some steady self-inquiry. One of my favorite words and I use it often when I refer to this interview is… I am unapologetic about the messiness. The messiness is a reflection of authenticity - it signals that we are venturing into the unknown instead of clinging to what we think we know.

One of the gems I am taking from your feedback is “Gentle enquiry… and gentle reflection”. It makes for a great mantra and words of encouragement and self encouragement. I can see myself embracing this in my life and future sessions.

gentle enquiry… gentle reflection…

Aneesah, Hi! Thank you for your feedback on my feedback. I do think this conversation about communication that invites us to delve deeply into areas that cut right to the core of our being is timely, certainly it is for me. I am grateful for the teachers offering their wisdom in ILP, I have found my life enriched by my engagement with you.
I am thinking that it may be of interest as to how my "Gentle enquiry…Gentle reflection " may have arisen. The words came to me spontaneously as I typed the post and they seemed appropriate. So a little reflection was needed as to what the fertile ground was that gave rise to those thoughts.
I am, by trade, a family solicitor and mediator. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have represented members of families throughout the spiral, even those who are looking at how to bring an Integral (though they didn’t use that word) approach to the re-creation of their family following relationship breakdown. At the other end of the spiral I regularly deal with cases where one parent is clearly a risk to their children, yet they have no insight into the risk they pose. In brief, in challenging times, they prioritise their needs above their children’s. For example where a child will ask of one parent why they don’t get to see more of them, that parent replies “it’s because your mummy/daddy won’t let me”. They justify their reply on the basis that it is “the truth” and they shouldn’t lie to their children.
It would be very easy for me to rip into that parent in cross-examination about their lack of child focussed behaviour and the upset their remarks have caused to the children and the other parent. Whilst it may make my client happy to see their former partner squirm in the witness box, I can’t see that it helps their children. Having been made to suffer in the witness box, there is a danger that the parent doubles down on their behaviour or simply walks out of their children’s lives.
So my aim is, at the outset, to to put them as much at their ease as possible given that they are in a courtroom. Parents are heroes to their children, especially younger children. This is always an area to tap in to get some positive vibes going.
(It is perhaps appropriate to add in here that the vast majority of parents behave in the way that they do because they believe it is the right thing for them to do. I have rarely come across a parent who has deliberately set out to harm a child to meet their own needs. My experience in this area is with parents who abuse illicit substances and are functioning around Beige).
So, gentle enquiry: I can see that you were wanting to do some good for your children in this situation, what was that good that you were wanting to do? Invitation to gentle reflection: I’m wondering whether that might have caused this (problem.)… what do you think? Opportunity for gentle reflection as there is no judgment, just enquiry. And it gets useful information for the judge to help inform their decision.
Finally, I imagine the children to be at the back of the court watching their mum and dad. They don’t want to see their heroes trashed. It may well be that the parent hasn’t yet made the changes they need to make to be safe around their children but by dealing with the court hearing in this way, it at least keeps the door open to the necessary changes.
So, thank you Aneesah, for helping me deepen my awareness of my practice.

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Is it really possible to overcome bias, or just recognize that it will always be there to some degree?

Or do I need to work harder to overcome my bias in the previous sentence?

To me it seems to be part of “Cleaning Up”, like shadow work - It’s a job that is never done and when we think it’s done, that’s when it’s doing its darkest works.

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Andrew, when I went on my 3 hour walk in the rain yesterday, I loved reflecting on your “gentle enquiry… gentle reflection” which felt like a wonderful invocation, mantra and chant, especially with each footfall (step) and the rhythm of walking. I am a firm believer in embodied practices, where we stay with the shifts in the body. This is the ‘mindful awareness’ part of my practice.

You are doing crucial work and I am touched by your clarity, sense of purpose and devotion. As you so aptly pointed out, most parents have good intentions. And, having worked as a Social Worker in South Africa, at a children’s home, substance abuse does impact capacity for caring, emotionally, intellectually and on other levels. These parents would also have a history of trauma that came from their own needs not being met as children and unfortunately as adults, expecting their children to deny basic needs, let alone emotional ones - to become the ‘parents’.

There is a small minority where one of the parents is a high conflict person and as much devastation as they cause - fortunately majority of parents do not fall into this category.

You have astutely recognised that the key element in all of this is enquiry. I so love the spelling with an ‘e’ - it’s so much richer as it has all the ‘en’ words like enter engage. I’ve gotten used to the ‘inquiry’ spelling. Inquiry is the ENGINE OF CHANGE. and I have learned that WORDS BECOME WORLDS. The questions we ask, creates the world we live in.

I am currently working on my certificate on a coursera course : Leading Positive Change Through Appreciative Inquiry. Just waiting for a grade on one assignment and to grade 2 peers before I qualify. They take you step by step for free when you AUDIT (if not going for certificate).

Help all stakeholders tell stories of when things did work out. See some examples in an earlier post.

Tell me a time of when you were there for your children … a highpoint moment. What was it like? How did that make you feel? How do you feel now, sharing this story? What helped… what made it possible for you to show up this way? What makes you most proud of how you showed up?

Try it… and let me know. You are welcome and reading your story makes me nostalgic for when I did this work.

Freedom from bias is such as uplifting and hope generating aspiration. And how alive and awake I feel, even as I become aware of the responsibility that comes with greater liberation. I try not to fall back into judgment due to fear of new responsibilities, to live even more authentically.

Ray, we have been socialised to navigate by ‘judgment’ and humans have inherited an instinct for ‘survival’ from when we had to be wary of those saber toothed tigers! For me, personally, I do frame this part of the work as “Cleaning up” and shadow work. Noticing it and noting it as ‘judgment’ as you have done, with some lightness is what helps me. A radical acceptance that this is a lifetime commitment - seeing we are human, living amongst humans, where daily we are triggered, circumstances change that provoke the survival instinct and society being set up via the media (especially) to reinforce bias and get in the way of us thinking for ourselves, knowing the truth for ourselves, and so on.

I too have found that when things are the darkest, we have the capacity to show the greatest strength, even though we might have been trying to convince ourselves that we are powerless. The greatest breakthroughs I have experienced have come from braving up in the darkest moments.

Thank you for weighing in so humbly and authentically. I look forward to your follow-up reflections and experiences.

The earlier post I referred to is under the topic NAIL Freedom & Flow. Here is the link

A few more thoughts.
There is a saying: You can please some of the people all the time, you can please all of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I think this is how it works with Bias in Practice. If so, then I thought it is worthwhile delving a little deeper.
I wondered whether perspective is a state of mind that helps us navigate the world. This state has its good content and not so good content which runs from prejudice to bias to neutral to open perspective. (Which is why Greens have so much difficulty with it, if they have to see them all as equal) Prejudice at the far end is a carefully thought out and deeply held perspective (achieved consciously or unconsciously) that prioritises the holder of the perspective in a manner that is immoral for the holder of the view and unethical in its effect upon the holder’s relationships with others and society as a whole. The line moves to bias which is a perspective that is less entrenched in the holder. Whilst still immoral and unethical it is less egregious than prejudice. And the holder of the view may well be more open to considering that there are more useful perspectives to hold. Neutral is what it says. We then move on to open perspective which is a carefully considered deeply held perspective that consciously seeks to be moral and ethical, and is used to promote the holder’s beneficial involvement with their relationships and society.
We can then talk about embodiment of the perspectives. I can see the role for anti-fragility here. I seem to see work in 1st Tier as a bit like a body builder. We choose our perspective that we are comfortable with and then make it as strong as we can to resist all attacks. It then takes a considerable amount of force to break it, if we are to move into a higher level of development. Similarly a bodybuilder will take a look at their body and choose how to sculpt the muscles to create the outline (perspective) they are seeking to achieve. At Tier 2 it is more anti-fragile. We are looking at our perspectives with a view to using them as best we might to develop our view of reality. We welcome the slings and arrows that come our way as we need them to effect development. Similarly a ballet dancer will work - put stresses and strains - on their body so that the muscles become more and more able to effect the dance (perspective) that the dancer is seeking to achieve.
This led me to the thought as to whether a bias can work/exist on its own. Muscles work together in a group. It is difficult, if not impossible, to isolate one muscle and work on that muscle alone. There are always other muscles working around it and supporting it, whilst the bodybuilder concentrates their efforts on the one muscle. Dancers are well aware that to get their fine and delicate movements, they use a bunch of muscles working in tension with and against each other. An example. I have a bias against working with South Asian women who can’t speak English. (I’m conscious of this. I also have an overriding wish to help ethnic minorities whilst they have involvement in the legal sphere during their family breakdown and so take appropriate steps to manage my practice so that my bias, so far as I can possibly can, does not affect my work). That bias has not come into existence on its own, there are a bunch of other biases supporting it: why should I have to work with people who can’t be bothered to learn my language, why should I work with a woman who accepts a culture where they are subservient to the man, so why work with a woman who has brought the issues on herself, the skills I bring to this work would make me significantly more money if I worked with privileged white males, so why am I wasting my time here? The list goes on and on. The point I’m making, I think, is that there may be little value in picking out a bias and working with it, if you’re not looking at and working with all the other biases that are working to support it and keep it in place.
And to answer raybennett’s thought: If the above is correct, then it is a lifelong task, we just change the level that we are working at. We move from prejudice to open perspective, which perspective opens us to wonderful new vista to dance in.

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No ‘single’ bias exists in isolation … how true. The additional difficulty to take into account is that in the relationships and within the systems we are part of, we can receive great opposition when trying to shift our way of thinking about something… especially when we want to talk about and act differently towards a particular group of people (seen as ‘other’).

Doing the work does need a commitment to an antifragile attitude that ultimately benefit us in all areas of our lives. For myself personally, I have found that I generate the energy and courage to do this hard work when I am curious, open, interested and hold a vision that embraces new possibilities. It also takes a lot of self-compassion. Your thinking on the topic resonates deeply.

I pondered what you said over a few days and what keeps coming back to me is “sabre tooth tigers”.
Without real sabre tooth tigers to threaten us, many people in modern society are constantly looking for them and have a psychological need to invent them.
Where I am at is wondering if all sabre tooth tigers are imaginary? I can’t yet mentally cross that bridge. For me it sounds more theoretical than practical or reality. I can see 99.99% of sabre tooth tigers are probably not really sabre tooth tigers at all, but I’m stuck on the 1%.
For me there is a gap between realizing this and applying it. Part of not being able to apply it is that I still believe there are a few real sabre tooth tigers out there ready to pounce on me at any moment. Or would-be sabre tooth tigers that I just find annoying but do no real harm. Then another part of it is some aspects of me want sabre tooth tigers to be out there.

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Yes, to the ability to discern what poses a real threat and what doesn’t. Sometimes our intuition is sensing some kind of threat, that can impact whether certain important needs will or will not be met. For instance, can I trust this person with X, or I’ve been here before and know this can put my relationship, livelihood or whatever at risk.

Other times, it’s our imaginary fears or real visceral memories from those times in other situations, nothing like this one (even though it feels the same), when I was a child for instance and conflict or disagreement (for example) meant real danger.

Your response did also bring to mind a quote /wise words I use to remind myself to tap into the virtue of discernment… when I notice I am worrying…This quote has been attributed to various people, anyhow…

Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

This is also where having a self-inquiry, reflection practice such as NAIL Freedom & Flow helps me. Taking myself through any or all of the five non-sequential steps, returns me to inner safety where saber-toothed tiger or not, I can, instead of being reactive, bring a creative response.