Four Owls with closed eyes perched on a wire, one hanging upside down, eyes wide open

Unconscious Bias: How to See What You Don’t Usually See

Subtle or unconscious bias is rooted in the deepest level of our mind’s pattern: dualism, the split between “I” and “you,” the separation mentality. Fundamentally speaking, that is what Buddha taught to be our habitual tendency, our mental conditioning. Therefore, in its most basic sense, we could say this unconscious bias takes place at a subtle level of human consciousness.

So unconscious bias is a normal type of human consciousness, but it is crucial for us to understand it. Once we have some understanding of it, we can then find a way to transform it, to find the balance that will lead us to greater positivity, joy, and freedom.

If you look at this a little deeper, you can see that this bias arises due to the subtle pattern of ego-clinging — the sense of “I” or “me” which can seem quite natural and innocent sometimes. Then on top of that “I” pattern, we produce groups of patterns such as “us” and “them” or the notion of “ourselves” and “others.” We need to see this clearly if we are going to break the chain of this pattern of negative bias because, as we can see, it is operating at a very deep level of our human consciousness.

So, what can we do about our subtle bias which, by definition, is mostly hidden? How can we change it?

According to Buddha’s teaching, the first and most important thing to do is develop greater self-awareness. It’s absolutely necessary for us to get to know our own individual pattern of bias on a deeper level.

Remember that these are subtle patterns. Coarse patterns are easy to see, but subtle patterns are going to be harder to spot. To notice them, you need strong self-awareness. For that, we must acquire tools that can help us increase our awareness of our own biases as well as the biases of others.

Then what do we do once we have this sense of self-awareness and self-reflection and are able to see our biased habit of duality? We must recognize it, accept it, and acknowledge it. We need to acknowledge the specific forms of our own subtle bias, as individuals. So first we spot it, then we acknowledge it.

We also ask ourselves, when does this bias come up? In what environment does it come up? And how, exactly, does it come up? Answering these questions, we fully acknowledge our bias and begin to see it clearly.

And third, we must have a heart of determination to change. We have to be decisive about wanting to transform this subtle bias, this pattern that we usually don’t even notice, even though we’ve been going along with it for years.

Once we see our bias and acknowledge it, we must find strength and courage. We need to be determined about changing this pattern of bias. Therefore, we have to be clear about it. We must make up our mind that we’re definitely going to make this change.

As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we don’t change our own bias and only keep pointing our finger at somebody else, it really doesn’t make the world any better. We ourselves need to change.

With that firm sense of determination, we challenge our own bias whenever and wherever we spot it. We do this for ourselves by ourselves. If we wait until somebody else challenges us, then it’s too late, we’re not really changing. Each one of us must challenge our own patterns.