On the special episode of The Life Coach School podcast “Oblivious and Resistant,” Brooke noted that “there is a limitation with the model when it comes to things in the world that we are oblivious to because we can only use the model on thoughts that are already in our brain. We can only use the model on old ideas that we can find in our brain.”
I am grateful that Brooke is putting herself out there as she is processing this moment and all that it has to teach us. Her example will no doubt help others to analyze their relationship with race. I am thankful that she is investigating her tools and working to understand her impact.
That said, I’d like to gently challenge this as a limitation of the Model and offer that the only limitation comes from our own reticence to consciously and courageously face unwanted thoughts.
This is because the Model is how the world works on the microcosm and on the macrocosm. It works at the individual level, as well as at the team, institutional, and societal levels.
If a thought — even one we’re oblivious to, one we likely haven’t chosen on purpose but rather unintentionally “borrowed” from broader society — is in operation in our minds, it will show up in our lives. In other words, we can look to the Results line of the Model to uncover thoughts of implicit bias.
First, in cases where we might be blinded by our own privilege, we can see society’s results as an invitation to tune into our own results.
So, what are society’s results around race? What are our own results around race?
Our society’s results are stark. Simply put, being Black in America predicts worse outcomes in all areas of life. Black mothers are more likely to die in childbirth. Black babies are more likely to die in their early months and years. As they grow up, Black children are more likely to develop health issues like asthma, obesity, and heart disease. They are more likely to receive harsh discipline in schools and end up in the school-to-prison pipeline. Black Americans are incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites (averaging a rate of five times more). There are plenty of other figures that reflect the disparities, but just to round it out, white Americans can expect to live for some three years longer than their Black neighbors.
When we look at these results, we can see very clearly that something is amiss. These are systemic issues — but systems are made up of people. These systems were set up by historical people with historical thoughts. Their thinking has been perpetuated through the systems they created, and over time, their thinking is internalized by people who interact with those systems today.
An example of this is policing: policing in the US grew in large part out of fugitive slave patrols. White slave owners created the system as a result of their thoughts. The reason for the creation of police has largely been forgotten over time, and now the existence of policing is seen as evidence of the need for police.
In a related example, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow illustrates how mass incarceration grew out of Jim Crow laws, which in turn grew out of slavery. We alive today, without historical reference, might look at the existence of prisons and the much higher incarceration rate of African-Americans and think that there must be some inborn reason for such inequities. Indeed, many people do look to those statistics and blame them on Black culture. The statistics become evidence for the existence of “real” differences between the “races” (a concept essentially made up to justify the enslavement of Africans that has no basis in reality) — when in fact, all they are is evidence of the thoughts of the people who created the systems originally.
It is critical to note this self-reinforcing feedback loop between the individual and society and its institutions and vice versa.
And ultimately, it’s clear work needs to be done at all levels: at the systemic level and at the individual level.
Specifically, we might inquire without judgment, how many people of color are in my life? How many friends of color do I have? Have I ever dated a person of color? How many people of color have I hired? How many people of color have I fired? How often do I interact with people of color, and in what capacity? How many authors, thought leaders, and artists of color do I follow? And so on…
Recognizing society’s specific bias against Black people, we could specifically inquire as to our results with Black people.
Once we uncover our results, we can work backwards. What are the actions that have led to these results? The feelings? The thoughts? We might notice any patterns here to investigate as well.
And it’s not just in the Results line that we can use the Model to uncover implicit bias.
We might use our feelings around the subject to intentionally inquire within. If we notice, for instance, we become tense or defensive when someone mentions race, we can use that as another invitation to look inward with compassion.
We could also decide to investigate our thoughts around race by doing a thought download. In particular, we might focus our thought download on the inequities listed above or on Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Movement for Black Lives. (I thought Brooke’s thought on the BLM movement in Worse Than You Think, “I do feel like they’ve been super-aggressive, or I feel like representatives from there have been super-aggressive,” was interesting and one that could be probed (e.g., why do I think their representatives have been super aggressive? What might their model look like?).
The same can be said of any movement for social change: What thoughts come up when we think of the movement for women’s rights? Immigrants’ rights? What feelings arise? This must be an honest inquiry, one in which we are unafraid to face what we might find in the musty corners of our mind.
If our thoughts and feelings are coming from a place like compassion and love, we’ll know we’re headed in the right direction. If they are peppered with blame, resentment, or a lack of understanding (e.g., “They should just be happy with…” or “I just don’t get why…”), we’ll know there’s more work to be done.
The Model can be used in other ways around this topic as well. Here’s just a smattering:
We can purposefully use the Model to step into the experience of others. Why might people be protesting? Why aren’t people happy? If we assume, as we must, that all behavior is rational according to one’s own Models, why would BLM activists be “super aggressive” and how might that “aggression” be justified from their perspective? How might they be looking at the circumstances out in the world and judging them differently?
Finally, because the Model works on the macrocosm as well as the micro, we can build intentional models on the results we’d like to see in our own life and in society at large. What is our vision of a multiracial America, and what do we need to think/feel/do to create that?
In fact, because of the self-reinforcing feedback loop discussed above, I would suggest it’s incumbent upon those of us doing personal development work to also have a vision for collective development. It’s also necessary for us to analyze what we’re creating now for its impact on the future. We have a vision for our future self — what about our vision for our descendants and for our future society? More on this concept in a future post!