Concluding a fast-paced morning at work, I headed to the lunch area to heat up my lunch. Famished and tired from the busyness of the day, I reached into my pocket for my cell phone to call my wife. Instead, I pulled out a green hot wheels car named Ballistik— I forgot to send this toy with my youngest son when I dropped him off at daycare this morning. Not being able to reach of my wife, my thoughts wondered as I waited for my macaroni and cheese to cool down.
The mind is an interesting place. It is the gathering place of ideas, thoughts, dreams, concerns and sorrows. Today, my mind meandered about my son’s early childhood therapy he started receiving at the beginning of August. The plastic toy car reminded me of the immense strides that he has made toward improvement on his developmental delays. My son is a joy of my life. His high pitched giggles and funny mannerisms infuse life into me daily. I was experiencing a brain barricade when it came to writing. I lacked motivation, inspiration, and endurance to pen my thoughts. Toy cars, farewells, and door knockings unexpectedly lifted me out of my stupor.
Playing with Toy Cars
Infants typically begin playing with toys around 5-6 months. My son was a unique case as he only played with toys cylindrical or round in nature. He has a fascination with circles—currently he goes into our bathroom and nearly dives headfirst into the empty tub looking for the round drain cover! Don’t worry. I made sure to disinfect it in time.
My child has idiosyncratic interests that make him a distinct, and cute, individual. To get back to the topic of toy cars, the reason why it is significant is that this past week was the first time I captured him playing with cars. He played with them as toys instead of flipping them to look at their circular wheels or chucking them in the kitchen! Progress is visible.
As a father of a child with autism [my oldest son was diagnosed a couple years ago], I noticed hints of autism spectrum disorder with my youngest. I want to give him the best tools to succeed in life and to improve his communication as well.
Goodbyes Can be a Good Thing
Regarding, farewells my son was not able to communicate verbally during tantrums he banged his head against the ground. Since the start of his therapy, I have noticed a tremendous growth my son’s social-communication skills. Last week he waved good—bye for the first time. Since then, he has been waving to our daycare provider upon my picking him up. These seem like simple achievements, but to a parent of a child with a developmental delay I was overjoyed with my 18 month old’s budding skills!
Knock and the Door will be Answered
Jesus tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Knocking on educational “doors” was a common experience that past few months as we sought after help for our son. Through the grace of God we got therapy to help him improve his communication. Continual asking for help was a sign of our hope in the Lord to provide for our child in need. Patience and persistence bore fruit in the form of my son knocking on doors recently. His tiny knuckles clinking the side of a front door was one of the most beautiful sounds I heard this week.
If you are experiencing a stressful situation with anxiety or struggle with communication the best way is to continue ask for help. Ask professionals, your friends, and ultimately God for help. It will take time, but do not be alarmed—help will always find those seeking aid and refuge from worry!
***For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened***
According to Cardinal John Henry Newman, “It is very difficult to give resentment towards persons whom one has never seen.” I have seen and experienced this phenomenon before. In those moments you are driving and someone suddenly cuts you off. An immediate reaction is anger or annoyance. Another instance of frequent prejudgment occurs when we first meet a new person. Sometimes our instincts are correct. Sometimes our initial bias is wrong.
Let us try a short experiment. Listen to the following quote. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg states, “I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at”. What thoughts popped into your head when you heard her name? Perhaps this name meant nothing and that is certainly fine. Actually, that is good because that means no bias exists now. If you know of Ruth Bader Ginsberg then it is likely depending on your past experiences, worldview, and or morality whether you view her positively or negatively.
Whether you agree with her judicial decisions or not, I hope we can all agree that her statement is true. Unconscious bias is tough to overcome. While bias acts as a predictive element for various situations in our life, we all have suffered saying something dumb or making an assumption that makes us look foolish. Even today I had to battle my preconceived notions and even slipped up in assuming something at work that later proved me wrong. I don’t want you to fall into the same foibles as me so here are five ways to overcome bias and make your relationships smoother.
According to Thomas Merton, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” Pride clouds our perception. It limits our purview. The days where I struggle most with prejudgment are the days that I struggle the most with the sin of pride. Listening to the news, regardless of your political affiliation (IT HAPPENS ON BOTH SIDES) the bias is so obvious it almost jumps off the television.
Humility widens our ability to emphasize with others. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When that happens, our past prejudices are forced to change. Our skewed perception meets reality. St. Vincent de Paul plainly wrote, “Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.” Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or truth. If you want to begin to overcome bias—start with being humble!
Never Assume, Ever!
I assume you know that old adage about assuming—right?! The one that says: “You know what happens when you assume?” Or should I clarify? In case you never heard that saying refer to the meme below
Too far? Perhaps. Basically, we should never, ever assume because you could make an a** out of you and me! In all seriousness, assuming occurs when we use past patterns or behaviors of events or people to predict something that will likely happen now/in the future. While assuming does lead to being right sometimes, I have learned that the benefits of being right don’t outweigh that awful feeling learning you are actually wrong (JUST THAT 1 TIME). Assuming more often than not perpetuates and deepens prior bias. Be safe. Never assume!
Education, Reeducation, Continuing Education
“Prejudice is the child of ignorance,” purported English essayist William Hazlitt. Learning more about the item or person that you are prejudiced towards will naturally lead to a broadening of your understanding—so long as you approach education with an open heart and mind.
As a parent of special needs children, I hold a special place for children (and adults) with disabilities. While our society is definitely making gains in mental health and disability awareness, many prejudices still persist—especially regarding autism spectrum. Some of the remarks people have made when hearing my sons have autism include: “You know vaccines cause autism!” or “Are you looking into a getting your son cured? These comments are biased and uneducated.
Initially, I let this bother me. Ironically, penchant for special needs children is a bias as well. I need to separate my personal view on the matter sometimes and realize that some people may not be aware of autism. Without that awareness and education it definitely makes why others may have a prejudiced view on an important issue dear to you. As George Whitman put it, “All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
Put Priority on Individuals and not the Collective
Along with seeking humility, avoiding presumption, and continuing education, another way to overcome bias is to view people as persons. I see this all the time at work—many times I fell (and still fall) into this habit. My toughest interactions with clients, customers, acquaintances, and even my children happens when generalize the group instead of understanding the individual’s needs. Failure to place priority on the individual leads to generalizing.
Generalizing is not necessarily bad in and of itself. Reducing individuals to the collective gets problematic when it is done hastily and without thinking. Treat the person before you (whether that be your spouse, customer, neighbor, etc) with the utmost dignity. That simple attitude will go a long way in broadening your viewpoint and limiting bias.
Talk it out
The fifth and final way to overcome bias is arguably both the simplest and most overlooked—talking. Twentieth century psychology Rollo May wrote, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” When all other methods fail just talk. Communicate. Learn from others. You don’t have to adopt others’ belief if it is contrary to your own, but to overcome bias talking helps you better understanding their viewpoint.
Prejudice exists because we live in a fallen world. We are blessed to be living in the unique age of social media. No other time in human history has information traveled as quickly nor connected as many people as now. This is both a good and bad thing. There are more opportunities for learning about others, but also there are a ubiquity of opportunities for prejudices to persist and worsen. Prejudice can be overcome. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of humility, avoid presumptions, be open to learning daily, treat everyone with dignity, and be willing to communicate. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream that one day my children will not be judged by their disability or other outward appearance, but by the content of their character! Do you believe as well?
Joseph Pieper, a 20th century German Catholic philosopher, once stated in Happiness and Contemplation,“Repose, leisure, peace, belong among the elements of happiness. If we have not escaped from harried rush, from mad pursuit, from unrest, from the necessity of care, we are not [fully] happy. And what of contemplation? Its very premise is freedom from the fetters of workaday busyness.” I think every person needs to be daily reminded of this message. It seems that lately I have been encountering a flood of fleetingness. Craziness abounds in both my work and home—demands piles up both from company leadership and my children.
Instead of me thriving and managing the stresses of daily routine, life has become a panicked response to these hurried stimuli. I wish there is some why for me to fight this raining of rashness. I really mean to fight it. I wish I this precipitation of precipitateness could manifest itself in a physical form so I could perform an epic beat down on it. My wife recently started kick-boxing for her morning exercise routine—so please do not think I am always a violent person! Would it not be nice to pull a Chuck Norris and roundhouse kick stress, busyness, and hurriedness into oblivion? Although it may be a pipe-dream to pull that off this donnybrook on stress literally, there are a few tips I have learned from my Catholic faith, my counseling sessions, and through my own life experience that help me stave off the burdens of busyness.
1. Present Before the Greatest Presence: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1323, “The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Oftentimes I fall into the trap of citing official church documents in hopes of slamming the door on any possible counter-argument to the truth. I have recently learned the errors in my line of thought. Great, I cited the official teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of the Eucharist. But what exactly does this mean for me on an individual level. Do I experience any sort of change or transformation through my encounter with this divine presence?
I wish that I could provide you an answer to all possible questions on this topic. But to be honest, I would only be kidding myself and I would fall short. I would be an inadequate emissary for the Catholic Church. For more information on rational arguments for belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist please refer to my post What Happened When I Critically Read John 6?. What I can provide is my perspective, despite the fact that it is limited. I am actually most at peace in this life when I sit quiet before the sacrament of the Eucharist in Adoration. As a Catholic, I truly believe that during the Mass the bread and wine is transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Communicating with God through the form of the Blessed Sacrament is where I am most at peace. Sacraments are visible signs of an invisible reality.
The second place I am most at peace is when I make myself vulnerable to my wife and share my dreams, fears, and worries to her. In the sacrament of marriage the love of God is made manifest in the exchange of a husband and wife [I rely on this type of presence of God more frequently than the Eucharist simply because it is more readily available].
Jesus never stressed about the busyness of this world. Even when he heard the terrible news of his close friend’s Lazarus dying Jesus never hurried. In reply to the concerned words of Lazarus’ sisters Christ calmly states in John 11:4, “This illness is not to end in death,* but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”Perhaps the worries and stresses God allows in my life was a preparation for his glory and display of mastery of them later in time. Through the sacraments I acquire calmness of mind and heart.
2. Cudgeling through Communication: How do you handle stressful situations? This was an interview question a prospective employer once asked me. I paused for a couple moments to collect my thoughts. I then provided two simple ways: communication and patience. As I stated above, I increase my patience through the graces I receive in the sacraments. Regarding communication, I have worked to consciously improve the manner and tone by which I rely information both at work and home.
What I have found out is that clearly and concisely conveying information is a surefire way to mitigate or defeat stressful situations. My counselor at my appointment today advised me to take a different perspective [i.e. try to see things from my manager’s vantage point] before I react and communicate something in a stressful event.
3. Perfectionists are not Perfect: Something I struggle with frequently is my tendency toward perfection. I have always been a perfectionist and an idealist. A large part of this may be due to my OCD inclinations and strong desire to have things in an straightforwardly organized manner. I want things to be predictable. There is an internal conflict within myself over desiring control over situations. I am blessed to have my wife in my life to provide an alternative approach to life. Through her example, I have slowly [hopefully surely!] worked toward a balanced approach to the stressful situations in life. Perfectionists are not perfect. We seek to attain it daily, but we will always fall short.
Does that mean I need to lower my expectations or my standards? There is a question that I may have an answer to later in my life. What I do know is that I need to come to grips with the reality that humanity is fallen. Perfection is not to be fully attained in this life—it is hinted at through the holy witness of the saints and the life of Jesus Christ!