Many of us have been watching the killing of the black man George Floyd and the aftermath with shock. His death was horrible, no question. Sure, the officer who killed him was (finally) charged with (only) Third Degree Murder. But it took a few days, and so far none of the other officers have been charged. [6/3/2020 Update: Finally The officer was upgraded to 2nd degree murder, and the other officers charged as an accomplice. This took 10 days and many protests.] This is on the heels of Amaud Abrey being shot by white men just for jogging and taking two months to arrest anyone, and Breonna Taylor being killed in her own home when police went to the wrong house–then arresting and charging her distraught boyfriend for protecting his own home with gunfire.
People have had enough.
So – now we have protests, looting, fires, and destruction. Sadly, small mom and pop businesses just able to open again in California where I live, and across the country, have been destroyed. For many, it may be their last straw if they don’t have insurance to cover it–or enough money for their deductibles, after being closed so long due to COVID-19. Or in the case of a museum, the items may be irreplaceable.
But how do we really CHANGE this racism? Violent protests may get attention–and there is debate about who the violent ones are to begin with–including rumors of stacks of bricks conveniently left in alleys and protesters being imported… Destroying mom and pop businesses won’t bring George Floyd or Amaud Abrey or Breonna Taylor–or the many others we know about and don’t know about–back to life. What will it take to make their deaths and so many like them really matter to change this once and for all?
The answer: We need to change our conditioning.
Change is easier said than done. In fact — I even have a free training called “Why Is Change So Hard?” and many programs to help people change. But to change deeply embedded racism is not about a single program, reading a book, listening to a CD, or the latest consultant. We have to understand WHY people do what they do, HOW they do it — and how to shift these things. Not coincidentally, the system I developed is called “Thought Shifting(TM)” — because changing our thoughts is what it takes to create lasting change. I’ll explain.
I have been helping people change since (at least) 1984 & accidentally became an expert in human behavior and culture. After transforming Fortune 100 companies larger than many cities, and studying and learning how to erase negative conditioning via my own business (Aiming Higher) the past 20 years — I have a lot to say about why we do what we do and how to change it.
Conditioning put simply is an automatic response to input. This is how we learn, and it serves us in many ways. As a baby, you learn the word “door” means a door. You then expand that learning to “glass door” and “front door”, and any number of deviations on the object we know as a “door”. Once you learn something you don’t have to think about it again –it’s automatic. It is in your subconscious–which means it’s hidden outside your conscious awareness.
My research over the past 20 years shows these automatic responses are more than 97% of people’s everyday responses. You don’t have to learn the word “door” again–you look at a door and the word “door” AUTOMATICALLY comes to your mind. There is no thinking involved. And this is a good thing, because we can’t possibly go through that learning process over and over with the same objects, situations, and people.
THIS is exactly how racism happens, too. Once it’s there, it’s literally an automatic subconscious response. And this is NOT a good thing.
How does racism get embedded? Starting when we are born, you are learning. You learn based on what you hear, see, feel, sense — and your ideas you derive from all those experiences. It is as simple as that. These thoughts literally form channels in your brain, and they are connected with emotions. This is stored in your subconscious, and it becomes automatic. You act based on these stored thoughts and the emotions connected to them. Racism is literally automatic.
Think about all the things kids are exposed to… Parents. School. Friends. TV. Video games. Books. Even things they overhear… All this goes in and is “stored” automatically. That is until about the age of five, when you start to discriminate and decide for yourself if you will accept an idea or not. But the problem is, by that time you have more than 2/3 of all your lifetime thoughts. Even then, “like attracts like”–whatever is already stored attracts more of the same. So the actual amount of thought you are questioning (and sometimes rejecting) is very little. Your life is mostly on auto-pilot by the time you are 18.
What goes in actually does matter to what comes out. Imagine a child who overhears a racist comment filled with fear. I used to hear from my grandma (who was otherwise a very loving person) “Black people run down your neighborhood.” She truly believed that. That kind of comment goes in, gets stored automatically and hidden–and when encountered with that situation, the now adult is automatically afraid of black people and fears they will “run down their neighborhood”. The same happens with other comments that are derogatory and fearful. Or abusive. Or suspicious. Or any number of reactions they might have to another race when encountered…
Add to this all the automatic conditioning police have when doing their job — control, fear, suspicion… And now we have a perfect storm of automatic judgment–and automatic reaction.
Unless there is an interrupt to this process–so the habit is not formed to begin with, or is undone… In my case, it was my elderly black neighbors the Muses. He had been in World War 1, injured and in a wheelchair. I used to visit them often. When I had reports for school, I interviewed Mr. Muse. So when my Grandma said “Black people run down your neighborhood” when I was 10 years old — I did not believe it. I argued with her. I said “But Grandma what about the Muses?” I could not accept my Grandma’s words. Really – thank God for the Muses, because they changed my life forever. They were my interrupt.
But many people are not so lucky. They have not had an “interrupt”. They don’t mean to believe those ideas — they are just there, lurking in the shadows. These thoughts are so insidious, because they are hidden in the subconscious — so people don’t even realize they think them. And we are exposed to millions and millions of them…
To change racism, we must force an interrupt. People literally need to be made aware of their prejudicial thoughts, and a new thought put in its place. The average person has 3.5 MILLION groupings of negative thoughts AKA negative conditioning AKA thoughts that don’t serve us. That’s a lot of thoughts in our way, and we see it reflected in the ills of our society. They are not just underlying racial prejudice–but depression, addictions, and even poverty.
Change takes at least 21 days of repetition to become a new habit. So to really change the conditioning that has resulted in the unfair prejudicial treatment of many races–and definitely black people–it requires catching these hidden thoughts every day, all day–and eradicating them. Over and over — until new ideas take their place. (My Thought Shifting(TM) process erases large groups of negative conditioning, to speed this process up…)
I envision a process something like this… First, people become aware of generally prejudicial thoughts, by role play so they experience it. This was well done in the “blue eye” “brown eye” school experiment. Then they become aware of their own prejudicial thoughts. This will certainly be a bigger task, because there are undoubtedly so many–but there are ways to bring these thoughts out. People then develop a new positive thought to take the place of each prejudicial thought. Then, for police officers (or couples… or friends…), partners “catch” each other speaking or acting out these thoughts. Finally, when you are “caught” — instead replace it with the new thought.
This is a completely voluntary process — not like “catching” someone not wearing a mask during Covid! This is not “tell on your neighbor”, either — but rather, since these hidden thoughts can literally come out of your mouth without you even realizing it, a friend to help you catch yourself acting with prejudice.
By the way–black people may need your own interrupt. You have been oppressed, no question. But I challenge you to consider you are the master of your own destiny–not a victim. You may also have your own conditioning that all too often says you are “not good enough” or you “don’t belong” or “my kids can’t play outside” or “I need to be afraid if I am pulled over”–or any number of other common ideas that are not true but feel true to you, or may even be based on truth but still may not be true for you. Years and years of oppression have left their mark. This is generational negative conditioning. Stop believing it. Take your power back. Not with violence–but by being the best you can be.
This may seem like work — but so is tearing our cities down, destroying mom and pop businesses–and killing people wrongly, and all the aftermath. That is wrong, it’s work, and it’s an untenable situation ripe for change. We CAN change this — but it’s time for an INTERRUPT.
What do you think? Comment below.