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Control Over Your Sixth Sense

Trusting your gut instincts gets complicated.

We rely on instincts.

Are you good at pegging people you first meet? Do your instincts kick in and adjectives start rolling around in your head instantly? Do you give the person a chance to change your perception or do you trust your initial gut and refuse to budge?

We are told that stereotyping is bad, prejudicial, and harmful to society. Can we trust our instincts? That depends.

“Trust your instincts” is the assurance you need to turn initial belief into conviction.

Our instincts are our greatest form of self-protection. But what if your instincts tell you not to trust the group of kids on the corner wearing hoodies and pants down to their knees? Did your sixth sense cause you to become a discriminating bigot? How the heck do you know the difference between self preservation and prejudice?

We rely on lenses.

We are born with instincts. But we are not born with lenses. They are developed and refined over our lifetime.

Those lenses are activated when our natural instincts lead us to make decisions. This is why children need to be supervised by adults because these filters are not yet developed. A child who is born into a loving home learns quickly to trust adults.  That trust transfers out into the world to other adults until they are taught to add lenses to influence those instincts.

Here is where things get tricky.

We make judgments.

If you trust these brain mechanisms and make a decision not to go to the shopping mall after dark, you are commended as sensible.

On the other hand, if you avoid getting out of your car at the gas station because you see a group of teenagers dressed in “gang-like” attire, are you prejudice? The “gang like” reference is a lens–one you glued to your instincts at some point in your life.

We adopt lenses from parents, friends, the media. Or create them from our own experiences. With an expanding library, inevitably some are going to be cloudy or downright unjust.

What if your hair raises on the back of your neck when boarding a plane next to a middle eastern man wearing a turban?

What if you refuse to open your door to a minority person handing out flyers in the neighborhood? What if that minority person was Asian instead of say, Mexican?  Would your instincts dictate a different decision?

When the Trevon Martin case went public I wondered what caused George Zimmerman to shoot the boy? Was it pure unadulterated prejudice? Or had he seen Trevon through a lens, based on previous encounters with young, black men, that convinced him he was in imminent danger?  Either way, a supposedly innocent young man lost his life.

Therein lies the importance of this discussion. Prejudicial behavior is rooted in people’s lenses, which affects their judgment, which impacts their behavior.

We choose our actions.

So how can we trust that our instincts will not unfairly hurt others or perpetuate unfair stereotypes? When should we pay attention to what our gut is telling us and when should we take a lens and say, “Hey, I don’t like what I’m seeing here?”

Step 1:  Admit you’re vulnerable.

Be willing to take an inventory of  your own lens case and discard the ones that don’t agree with your core values.

Step 2:  Accept that a lens that protects your safety could be faulty but follow your gut anyway.

Better safe than sorry. Taking ANY chance with your safety is risky.

Step 3:  Consider the source.

Question the bias you were handed as a child. Does it serve you and society well? If not, throw that lens away.

Question the influence of your religious beliefs when it comes to your rapid reactions. Is the greater good being served?

Do you adopt the lenses of celebrities, politicians, the media, just because they have a large reach? Look at facts and behaviors. Good instincts come from life experience. Credibility isn’t based on numbers of Twitter followers or lyrics to a hip-hop song.

Step 4: Consider who your action impacts. 

The turban-wearing passenger gets on the plane. You don’t. Your choice. But what if passenger isn’t allowed on the plane just because he’s wearing a turban? (Scary when lenses become laws).

You choose not to take a job located in the “bad” side of town. It affects your income. Refusing to hire people due to ethnicity or disability affects their income.

Step 5: Consider the lenses you pass on to others.

Teaching children to fear all strangers passes on a bifocal lens. That is why kids can be manipulated easily by perpetrators. After all, Mom & Dad are nice to strangers all the the time.

Have you been around people who use derogatory words to express their views on entire groups of people? (i.e. conservatives, liberals, gays, nerds, freaks, geeks, ….). Those seeking acceptance or yearning for guidance, particularly children, are most vulnerable to perpetuating hurtful stereotypes. Gangs and bullies are good examples.

We need to realize our instincts are not pure. They have been manipulated by our upbringings, environments, and societal pressures. 

Next time your brain fires, your instincts trigger, listen with intent as your sixth sense is speaking to you. Make sure it is serving you and our world well.

"To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly." Henri Bergson

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  1. Wow. This is excellent! The perspective you are giving me and others is so “right on”!!!! LOVE IT!

    June 3, 2012

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