Life Lessons in Biases

Life’s road has a funny way of veering us down curves when we least expect it. These curves, when survived and reacted to efficiently, are often teachable moments where we learn about ourselves, the world around us, and what to do/not do when adversity strikes. Every day we learn something new, but these types of moments often distinguish themselves from the rest and can have a significant impact on our lives.

A life lesson was taught to me over the weekend that revealed several truths about myself I’m not proud to admit exist. The experience exposed flaws in my character, helping to identify a problem I didn’t know resided within me while allowing me to take the necessary steps to correct them. Some say we cannot change until we’re able to find our own imperfections, and one of them became obvious to me Saturday night.

After seeing a movie called A Quiet Place (it was pretty good!), the people I was with wanted to grab a drink at the local watering hole before going our separate ways. I became apprehensive when we began discussing the few options we had. I knew the area fairly well but was cognizant of potential danger because we were in a very small town in central Florida that doesn’t have a positive reputation for being a welcoming area for people of color (I am mixed with black and white).

We attempted to go the “safe route” by picking a restaurant near the theatre but they were nearing closing time, so we decided to go to the only other place in our immediate vicinity–a-hole-in-the-wall joint where bikers tend to hang-out on the weekends. Despite my skepticism we went, but to be honest, I was nervous.

The scene unfolded as we slowly pulled into a small parking lot occupied by nothing but motorcycles. Sounds of a band playing Lynyrd Skynard blasted through the main entrance door as glaring eyes fixated on the small silver hatchback I drive. The volume of the song was matched, sometimes defeated, by those at the bar shouting over one another and the clanking of glass bottles against one another.

Several men awaited us at the entrance wearing the typical “biker” gear–blue jeans, bandanas, leather jackets, long beards, along with the occasional cowboy hat. I felt uncomfortable as we approached because I’ve visited similar places only a handful of times and have never gotten used to being in an atmosphere like that. It doesn’t help that the movies rarely show them in a positive light. Typically, those types of bars and its patrons are portrayed as dangerous and strangers aren’t welcome.

We found a completely opposite experience after we settled into our bar stools in a corner behind the pool tables. Unlike the movies, the band didn’t stop playing upon our arrival, people didn’t stare, and everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves. The people were welcoming and seemingly eager to start conversations while the older women in the crowd, who were clearly inebriated, did not hesitate to flirt. My anxieties and suspicions over my surroundings vanished and I found myself as comfortable there as I would have been at a close friend’s house.

When it was time to leave I was suddenly ashamed. I dislike hatred, judgements and assumptions about any type, or group of people, yet I realized I was no better than those who let themselves succumb to bigotry. While I would never intentionally take actions to hurt someone (physically or emotionally) because of their differences, I obviously approached the situation with unrealistic and negative expectations. I let fear of the unknown and stereotypes form my opinion about people I never met or knew anything about.

My biases, caused by unfamiliarity and fictional images created by endless forms of media and ignorance from lack of experience, resulted in me being afraid of nothing real and approaching/treating people differently because of how they dressed, how they looked, etc.–the opposite of how I’d want them to treat me.

Several life lessons were learned that evening:

  1. Biases are a part of human conditioning and likely exist within all of us, no matter how much we deny it.
  2. This experience made it easier to comprehend and understand how easy it is to have biases which can allow me to be more patient with those I encounter in the future.
  3. I must treat and respect others in the same way I wish to be treated/respected, regardless of looks, circumstances, etc.
  4. Continue to keep myself open to realizations like the ones I’ve had above–it’ll help me continue to grow as a person and be part of a better world.
  5. Lastly, it would’ve been easy to deny my flaws and continue down the road I was heading. Instead, I must embrace my own, as well as others’ humanity, and take the necessary path to fix my faults–if I can better myself, I can better the world around me.

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