Thursday, February 16, 2017

Derek Wilson - Combatting Exclusion with Humility

Derek Wilson is a husband and father of two children. He has been teaching Social Studies for 15 years at Roseville Area High School, where he currently serves as curriculum leader. Derek participated in the 2016 Minnesota Humanities Center’s Educator Institute.

I am trying to replace ‘exclusion’ with ‘embrace.’†

Patterns of exclusion stain hearts and minds, and blind institutions. Without check, the cognitive reflex that files and sorts—creating implicit bias—has become a weapon of power, pushing people to the margins. This reflex builds patterns of thought, ways of being, and entire systems that privilege some over others.

Since the Enlightenment era, we have increasingly relied on data, analysis, and strategies to solve social problems. A growing body of science suggests that exclusion within our institutions cannot be fixed without first acknowledging and addressing the biases that exist within us. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt used Daniel Kahneman’s (Thinking Fast and Slow) research to create a metaphor of a rider on an elephant to describe the automatic and controlled processes of the brain. While we like to believe the rider controls the elephant with logic and analysis, reality is often quite different. Habits, biases, and intuitions are quick automatic processes and are as difficult to direct and control as a six-ton elephant. We need more than effective strategies to combat exclusion.

Much of the solution, then, lies in noticing and shifting our unconscious processes. How do I stop habits, combat biases and challenge intuitions that create and perpetuate systemic exclusion?

My answer starts with affection, rather than indifference. Affection for others emerges from a conviction that what binds us is greater than what divides us. This binding agent transcends the fluidity of identity and is at the core of every human being; it is the divine spark we all share. It levels the playing field, and does not bow to moral or merit.

Pressing into this conviction leads me to listen and learn from the stories of others. Early in my adult life, I can recall listening in order to respond, repeatedly categorizing and analyzing others’ words. Truth be told, it still happens, but I am working on suspending this kind of judgment, and listening with humility and solidarity. I agree with Paul Tillich when he wrote, “In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen."

Listening like this is dangerous, though. It exposes and threatens habits, intuitions, and biases. It creates uncertainty about those things of which we were once certain, and challenges our place as central arbiters of knowing and being. It also means holding cherished ideologies and metanarratives loosely. Finally, this act of humble listening will eventually require action.

These are the risks of embrace, but they are worth it to end exclusion.

Note: I first learned about the contrast of exclusion and embrace from theologian Miroslov Volf.

No comments:

Post a Comment