Are You Biased?

By Greg Brooks

I realized the other day that I had taught my son to be biased.xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /

I have a 4-year-old son. He's very impressionable. He's also a big fan of doing whatever daddy does and liking whatever daddy likes.

As it happens, daddy likes the Winter Olympics. I may not know what the Nordic Combined is, but you better believe I want to watch it happen. Even more inexplicably, I would never watch a minute of hockey under different circumstances, but I sat through the entire Canada-Finland men’s contest. I cheered for Finland. I have no idea why.

My son and I were watching the men’s U.S. hockey team play somebody in red jerseys (all these countries are hard to keep straight). I was teaching my boy to chant “USA! USA!” as my father taught me.  Since he can’t read very well, I pointed out to him that we are for “the blue team” and against “the red team.” All was well.

Later, however, I learned I had made agrave error. A different hockey match was on, and of course I was glued to the action. My son entered the room and asked, “Do we want the red team to lose again, Daddy?” My heart sank as I realized I had taught my son to be biased. My son is prejudiced against red teams.

Gently I corrected him, teaching him that in this case, we did not care who wins, because we did not even know how to pronounce the names of the countries that were playing. I silently prayed that it was not too late—that someday my son would learn that the red team deserves love, too.

Of course, this is a minor example of bias, particularly since it is a hypothetical situation. But bias is real and it can be a big problem. Even more alarming, it really is easily taught to kids. I may not mind if my son doesn't cheer for "the red team," but I certainly don't want him to be biased in more important matters such as race or gender.

This is important to me because I am a Christian. By that I mean that I've decided that the most important thing in my life will be learning from Jesus how to live my life as He would live it. As such, the way I think about and behave toward other people is a very big deal. Jesus Himself said that the most crucial things God ever told humanity, from the beginning until the time of Jesus' life on earth, were His instructions to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind," and "love other people just as much as you love yourself" (Matthew 22:37-40). He also said that treating other people the way I want to be treated pretty much sums up everything God had ever told humanity to do.

So my attitude towards other people is important because Jesus said so. That's not all, though. In his letter to the Colossian church the Apostle Paul wrote, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." So I learn from Jesus, and from his disciple Paul, to treat other people the way I want to be treated, to love them just like I love myself, and not to think of anyone as different from me. All these are important lessons, and I want to pass them on to my son.

So how can I teach my son not to be biased? Remember, he wants to do what daddy does and like what daddy likes. My first step in teaching my son is to examine myself.

Researchers from Harvard University, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia have teamed up to form a group called Project Implicit.  Among other goals, they seek to study the roots of “implicit bias”—those thoughts, feelings, and judgments that run so deep as to be beyond conscious awareness.  They have developed a series of tests, available online at that screen for the presence of implicit bias in several areas: gender, race, age, sexual orientation, weight, disability, and religion.

I took most of the tests available online, and I suppose I did all right. I found that I tend to have slight or moderate bias in areas of gender, age and weight. When I examine myself honestly, I know that this is true. The struggle to be unbiased, or unprejudiced, is a daily one.  But I believe it’s worth it—and that’s the lesson I want to pass on to my son.

Contact Greg Brooks at