Why can’t we all just get along? This question has probably been asked for eons. It’s a great question. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there is any real answer. But, sometimes, even with questions that don’t have a definitive answer, we still need to be asking the question.
Is conflict between humans rooted in genetics? Do we inherit a gene that causes us to instinctively dislike other people because of perceived differences, which often intensify into imaginary threats? Is society to blame? Perhaps the media? The question of why bias and any form of prejudice exists in this modern age, may never be answered. Sadly, it may never be fully eradicated either.
When we look at life on our planet from a purely scientific and factual perspective, we find that bias exists in almost all forms of life.
There is scientific evidence that even in nature, animals and insects demonstrate forms of bias and indeed, outright discrimination. For examples, Bees who guard the hive are much more likely to let other genetically similar bees into the hive, while banning others. Squirrels are known to loudly warn other squirrels in the area of danger, but usually only if those other squirrels happen to be part of their extended family. Chimpanzees take territory from other Chimpanzees by attacking and killing neighboring tribes. Even Ants get in on bias and discrimination. Entomologist Bert Holldobler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Ants , describes the fascinating ways in which colonies of ants conduct warfare with one another, enslave other ants, and communicate with each other to make complex decisions about whether to fight with or flee from conflicts with neighboring colonies.
Wait, what? Are you saying we’re just like animals?
No. The types of ‘bias’ we see in the animal kingdom, is more based on survivalism. Nature is tough and in order to ensure the survival of the species, animals tend to have the “survival of the fittest” mentality. We know for example that with some species, a mother will abandon the weakest of her young, devoting her energy on the stronger offspring. Take Meerkats as another example — they have intra-tribal rivalries over which will be the dominant Meerkat, but as soon as a predator shows up, they drop that rivalry and ban together as a unified tribe to fight off the predator.
Obviously, humans are more advanced than animals — our evolution should, in theory, have moved us passed bias and discrimination. So why hasn’t it? Perhaps part of our problem is that we aren’t taking the time to truly understand what bias is, vs. prejudice and discrimination. Maybe we’re so distressed that it still exists, that we’re not really looking at why it still exists. And, until we can better understand the what and the why, we’re not going to be able to fully eradicate it.
Bias is defined as: “ Bias is the tendency to have an opinion, or view that is often without considering evidence and other information. Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, or not having an open mind. Bias can come in many forms and is related to prejudice and intuition.”
Discrimination is defined as: “A discriminating,
We all have some form of bias and to deny that, is to live in…well…denial. Bias seems to be part of who we are, because we all lean one way over another. For example, you might feel your Mother makes the best Lasagna in the world and when eating Lasagna made my anyone else, before taking a bite, you declare “okay, but it’s not going to be as good as my Mom’s, because she makes the best Lasagna in the whole world.” Does she really? So one can be biased about something, without it being a bad thing, because being biased about your Mom’s lasagna is harmless.
The real problems start to arise when bias becomes ingrained in a person — when it becomes “one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, or not having an open mind.” For example:
- If someone is biased toward women, they might display that bias by hiring a man over a more-qualified woman.
- If someone is biased toward a certain religion, they might show it by making rude or insensitive comments, or go as far as vandalizing religious buildings.
- If someone is biased against same-sex couples, they might discriminate against them by refusing entrance into a club or hotel.
- If someone is biased toward a political affiliation, they might show it with name calling or refusing to believe their opponents could be right about anything.
Read more: Author Shankar Vedantam shows in his book, The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives, that bias is indeed a human survival mechanism – a short cut of our brains.
I believe that the reason we’re still struggling with “can’t we all just get along?” is because we’re not really clear on what it means to be biased, versus what it means to be truly prejudice and discriminatory. “Experts” and indeed the media, are telling us that to be biased is a bad thing. However, they’re not going far enough in how bias is defined. Since we all have some form of bias, maybe we humans simply cannot just stop being biased? Maybe people need clarification, instead of acrimonious rhetoric?
Webster’s dictionary defines xenophobia as the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners.” Unlike other phobias, this malady is not limited to a small clinical population, but is found all around us. Indeed, some experts believe it may be universal. It is certainly easy to find evidence to support this pessimistic view. Every week’s news brings a new set of horrible stories about people killing absolute strangers merely because of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, or skin color. – Psychology Today.
We are all biased. But does that mean we’re all racists?
So on one hand, science proves that bias exists in virtually all life forms, but on the other, humans are shamed into never being biased. Wouldn’t it be better if people were educated on harmless bias, vs. discriminatory bias? Even the people making the declarations about prejudices are themselves biased on some level, so they need to own up to that if they are to have any credibility.
Having a bias dos not necessarily mean you harbor prejudices about race, gender, sexual orientation or religion — if it did, it would mean that virtually every human on the planet is a bigot.
Bias is a serious problem when it develops into something pervasive and we become closed-minded, intransigent and isolated. When we’re closed-minded, the part of our brain that enables us to think freely goes dormant. As a result of living in an insular world, our biases become the norm and we begin to perceive anything unfamiliar or different as a threat — and that is when hatred and discrimination emerge.
Before Anything Else, We Are All Human
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite… Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” – Nelson Mandela
Some very wise words from Mr. Mandela.
I think we need to educate ourselves, and in particular our children, that having a harmless bias over something insignificant isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Accusations and decrees of how to behave and think never work and we cannot force people not to be prejudice. Teaching and leading by example as to what is true prejudice and what is a harmless bias, will help clear the air and give us a much needed perspective. Right now, all we have are people shouting “you’re biased…you’re a hater!” and this is not helpful.
To hate or discriminate against anyone because of their skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political affiliation is wrong on every level. We are all one race — the human race.
As to why we all still can’t get along, I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer right now. Perhaps it’s because there is no single answer? If we teach our children the difference between harmless and bad bias, they’ll have a better understanding of what real prejudice looks like and be better prepared to guard against it. Diversity is a truly beautiful thing and is not something to fear, because at the end of the day, “before anything else, we are all human.”
Spotlight: Please take some time to check out “Love Has No Labels.” It’s a fantastic organization that shows us “It’s time to embrace diversity. Let’s put aside labels in the name of love.” And, check out their video — it demonstrates how love and tolerance fosters happiness!