Monthly Archives: August 2016

Let’s try to Intentionally Override…

This quote from Yana Weinstein (@doctorwhy) is important , I think. But I’ve been having trouble talking about it.


There’s a lot in this quote. Piles and piles of cognitive (and developmental) psychology indicate that humans use concepts and categories to understand the world. We just do. Our brains are meaning making and pattern finding machines. And it’s not a bad thing: generally making categories is an efficient, adaptive way to operate in the world.

BUT when we deal with other people, our categorization habits can get in the way. Badly.  Categories quickly lead to stereotypes, which can easily become prejudice, and if we have even a bit of power over someone else, prejudice becomes discrimination. And this all might happen without our awareness.

My favorite part of the quote is the last part: “The moral solution is to intentionally override the tendency to categorize individuals in the same way that we characterize other items that we encounter.” That sounds very matter of fact and clear, but underneath that statement is something profound, and inspiring, I think. When we deal with our fellow human beings, the other folks in our human family, we need to try to consciously “override” what our brain wants us to do at first: categorize someone. We should try to NOT judge their actions based on the categories and expectations built up based on our past experiences. We need to stop those immediate thoughts, remember that we’re thinking about another human being, and do our best to resist the influence of our internal categories (and stereotypes).

I expect there are many, many studies that show how unlikely this is. I’m certain that it’s difficult, and it may even ultimately be impossible. But I don’t want to think about that yet. Maybe it’s worthwhile thinking and talking about how we might at least try. What can help us interrupt the quick flow toward judgment? How can we try to override?