Is It My Responsibility To Educate You?
“The only things in life we can learn are things we don’t yet know.”
Everything that you know about the world around you has come from your experiences, education and perceptions. Everything. Humans have an intense psychological belief that what they know about the world is without question, the way the world actually is. This process called “The Illusion of Certainty” is critical because it helps us expedite our understanding of the world but also, it can open us up to discomfort and disbelief when someone shares with us an experience or perception that we haven’t had or cannot imagine.
Think about it, why are so many folks reaching out to their Black friends and coworkers right now? Because they have recognized that there are meaningful experiences that they have not had, and have not known. To be clear, it is NOT your responsibility to educate all of the folks around you. Requiring BIPOC to bear the burden of educating the world is a manifestation of the reason for the education in the first place. That being said, the world, in general, is possibly more open to learning than it has ever been, and we are in a unique position to educate folks if and when we so choose to. It is not your responsibility, but it may be your opportunity. What follows are ways in which we can be most effective in illuminating our own experience for those that are open to learning.
The interesting psychology of learning is that our brains want to rapidly identify patterns from small bits of data. This is what people call “boiling down” an issue. This is a problem when discussing racism and discrimination because it is not simple. It cannot be boiled down to just one thing. If you are having a dialogue with someone and they keep trying to boil it down, don’t shut them down, but redirect them. “That’s an interesting point/idea/solution. What specific problem does that address? Do you think that’s the only/biggest/most pressing problem?” Asking questions to redirect rather than trying to prove wrong has been proven to keep a dialogue open while minimizing defensiveness. Understanding these simple concepts will help you avoid the “Trap of the Anecdote.” There is not one experience or anecdote that will represent the entire problem. But people will try to find one. There is not one experience or anecdote that will disprove the entire problem. But people will try to use one. Racism and discrimination is a very complex issue that we must work our way through as a society. It is an issue that will take a long time to resolve.
One thing that is extremely important to understand. None of us are exactly the same. Despite what stereotypes and prejudices may say, there is something that psychologists call, the Infinite Variability of Humanity. Each of us will have a different way of thinking and talking about racism and discrimination because each of us has had different experiences and have different brains. Someone may feel comfortable getting up on a stage and sharing their experience, someone else may prefer writing, and yet another may prefer one-on-one conversations. No one way is better or worse than another. The goal is to advance our society. The direction and the destination matter infinitely more than the path that each of us chooses to get there.
Just as many of us have done our entire lives, we must practice persistence, we must exhibit stamina, we must remain diligent to keep moving forward. When you are exhausted and tired of educating folks, take a break. You do not need to be the professor for everyone at all times. When you have energy, use it. The world needs your unique perspective. When you need to lean on someone - lean. We cannot do this alone. And if you find yourself speaking, and you notice folks are paying attention… Speak Up. It means that they are letting go of the Illusion of Certainty, and are learning from you, your perspective, and your experiences.
Written by Eric M. Bailey Author of The Cure For Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior