Wondering what we can learn from the recent shootings that will help our marriages?
Bear with me for a moment – all these things are connected and you’ll see why in just a minute.
Sitting at my computer on Saturday, I started grading exams for my college public speaking courses. When I moused over the first student’s submission online, I saw something I had never seen before, even though it’s always been there since I’ve been teaching:
Hide names of all students
If I clicked on that, I could grade exams without knowing whose they were.
I had a professor in graduate school that had us turn in our tests with the last 4 digits of our social security number in the “name” spot. I remember listening to him explain and sat shocked as he said, “I don’t like some of you. I know you don’t like me either. I don’t care. What I don’t want to do is bias myself when grading you, so put your #’s up instead of your names.” I felt a little angry at him for being that way in the first place, but then admired him a little, too, for being that honest. And now, the college I teach at and most major universities around the nation use a computer grading system that allows us to toss bias out the window, and grade based on merit alone.
I appreciate that.
Because, as a woman, as an AGING woman, I experience bias. What most of us don’t realize is that nearly everyone does.
Last week I blogged about how one of the hazards of being assertive is that it gets in women’s way of being effective.
Unconscious bias impacts us in our country, our work, and our marriages. Late the other night, I’d had discussions with two wives in my Strength & Dignity class who were in turmoil over their husband’s behaviors. One was irritated her husband wouldn’t consent to having a cat. He says he’s allergic. She doesn’t believe him. “He’s lying! He just doesn’t ever want me to be happy. He just always wants to control me.” The other wife vented about her husband’s lack of attention to her. “He doesn’t care about me, he only cares about his video games!” she said.
They were both being assertive with their husbands and couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t change his behavior. One said to me, “I told him he was being a jerk about it and how he was wrong, and he just got mad and nothing changed.”
I hear the same sorts of things from men – “She says she loves me, but she never acts like it,” and “All she does is complain…”
Might I humbly suggest that we have serious misconception on all sides?
That’s what I believe is going on – misconception – and it is because of cognitive distortion – basically we are rewriting history because of negative thinking.
It can be so strong people feel unsafe when they are not. A friend of one of my kids has repeatedly said they are treated differently because they are black. Teens tell me store owners watch them like hawks because they are teenagers. Women say they are treated disrespectfully because they get emotional. These things are true – sometimes – and not true others. But the times they are true make a bigger impact on us because of the negative experiences, media, and bias.
Here’s what I think – you can check it with your experiences to see if it is right.
I don’t think people INTEND to do these things. I don’t believe the police officers got up one morning and decided all black people were dangerous. I don’t believe the officers who shot and killed these men decided to do what they did – they responded to training they have had…but that wasn’t clear in the early days on the news. I do believe all have bias, all have been negatively impacted and that can drive behaviors because of our biases. Don’t hear me excusing bias – it is wrong – but as we learn more facts about what happened, we have to wonder about the impact. Children of all are forever fatherless. I’m not excusing or explaining away what happened. For either the people in Louisiana or Minnesota or Dallas. For either the shot or the shooters. It is hard to get the truth in our country – and we often don’t know the truth until days later.
But I can say that I spent a number of years doing Human Resources for a manufacturing company in Iowa. One of the first things I did was audit the pay system, and I found something awful.
There was a deaf woman working there. She’d been there for ten years – and when I asked the supervisor and the plant manager what kind of worker they thought she was, they both said, “excellent,” and let me know she stacked up against anyone else there in efficiency AND quality of work.
She was also the lowest paid employee on the shift.
The manager and supervisor were shocked. They couldn’t believe it – but they consistently, and unconsciously, gave lower raises to her – not because of HER, but because she was in a different “category” of people – and they unconsciously treated her as “less than” because their other experiences with deaf people indicated they couldn’t do as much as others.
But they were wrong in this case – and they didn’t even know it until I pointed it out.
Americans are what we call, “pendulum swingers” – meaning we go from one extreme to another – it’s either black or white, all or nothing, and that line of thinking is dangerous. It’s cognitive distortion. Truth is usually in the grey middle. I believe this is getting worse as time goes on.
Here’s why: negative experiences stick in our heads and memories like velcro – they make a bigger and more lasting impact than positive ones. The research supports it.
But here’s what’s cool: When we pray or meditate, we can literally overcome this negative perception pattern and increase empathy for others – our brain actually changes and we have greater empathy for others, as if we are experiencing those same feelings.
Being influenced by cognitive distortions helps create what Robert Weiss and marriage guru Dr. John Gottman call, “negative sentiment over-ride,” where we literally don’t even SEE the good things that happen, and we miss things like compliments from others and positive interactions. We mis-interpret another person’s nonverbal cues in the most negative way possible. Take this quiz to see if YOU have negative sentiment over-ride in any of your relationships.
I see this in our country, where we miss opportunities to celebrate similarities, which will then lead to celebrating differences – because we’re too busy trying to sell news and generate hype for money in the media.
I see it in schools, where bullies focus on kids who are different.
I saw it this weekend, in my daughter’s musical theater performance, West Side Story.
I see it in marriage where we become blind to compliments, tenderness, and help.
It’s my opinion that this is how Alton Sterling’s death in Baton Rouge, and Filando Castile’s in Minnesota can cause a person in Dallas to get angry enough to kill five police officers and wound seven more. The person in Dallas already had negative sentiment over-ride about the police – the incidents in the recent week pushed him over the edge, and hence violence that doesn’t even deal with the actual people who killed in Louisiana and Minnesota. It’s not like Minnesotans and Louisianians drove to Dallas to seek revenge. It’s also not as if his actions even address those situations.
And the police officers who were involved in Alton Sterling and Filando Castile’s deaths may have had negative sentiment over-ride/unconscious bias – and may have let fear or some other negative emotion over-ride reason and even awareness of truth – or maybe not. In this day and age where we can see things in real time and videos of it later, we can see there was something ELSE going on in both of those situations – until MORE information is released – and we are able to see there may be more to the story. Part of me wonders who to believe, the news report about the busted tail light or the one about the couple being suspected of a crime. These are strange times we live in.
By now you can see the power of these situations – and if you’ve read the links above, you know what a big impact these experiences can have on your brain.
I literally saw this in action this week as I am preparing to do some training for a school organization. I asked the teachers three things:
- to describe what some of their biggest conflict situations were
- how these conflicts affected their job satisfaction &
- how often these events happened during an average school year
Most commonly, conflicts centered around parents being argumentative with them because their kid was caught cheating or they didn’t like a grade the teacher gave – even when it was clear their kid didn’t do the work or obvious that they cheated. These situations happened, on average, 1-4 times a year – which is in the “rather infrequently” category.
But look at how much they effect the teachers’ job satisfaction!!
Do you see NONE had a positive impact?
And do you see that the majority had a negative impact on their job satisfaction?
I’m excited to be doing training to help them get comfortable with conflict – and help them create better outcomes for them, the students, and the parents! My goal is to give them skills and have them practice them so that when these situations arise this year (the 1-4 times they might), they’ll feel confident and have the skills to handle them.
It’s also what we’re teaching at Boot Camp 2016 for our facilitators, women Bible study leaders, and for our class members in the Strength & Dignity class.
(We’ll be opening that back up in September, so you can join us then, too – it’s free – here’s the waiting list if you want to know when it is open.)
We have a few hundred women changing their marriages, one interaction at a time – and learning how to fight against negative sentiment and cognitive distortion. It’s pretty awesome that they are moving forward and seeing more positive in their marriages.
They are seeing their husband as similar to them, having more compassion for themselves AND him – all while speaking truth in love and respect. To help them AND you this week, I’m asking them to employ RESPECT 101 Tip#2 with their husband:
Yes, it sounds crazy, but there’s research to back it up. You can’t change anyone else’s behavior – but you can impact it by changing yours. You can physically stop communicating that you are a threat. You can verbally stop communicating that you are a threat to your husband.
Those things create defensiveness in others.
Defensive people aren’t listening to you, they are too busy defending themselves.
But to get a grip on these things, we’ll need to take control over our thoughts. We’ll talk about that this week, too.
The other thing you should know is that most “diversity training” doesn’t work. If it did, we wouldn’t have unconscious bias or negative sentiment over-ride. What companies, churches, and even adoption and foster families need to do is focus FIRST on similarities in individuals – it is through that common ground that empathy, the foundation of great relationships, is found.
Focusing on differences is to come AFTER we create common ground – without it we have nothing to build upon.
In the mean time, might I suggest that Dare 18 from The RESPECT Dare – 40 days to a more intimate relationship to God & your husband might be helpful?
In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Never tell another person that he or she is wrong.” This means you disagree in a respectful way, and you do so without arousing resentment or creating defensiveness.
Challenging our own cognitive distortions will help us in our marriages and I believe it is where we start to begin healing our nation.
What about you? What pendulum swings do you take? Do you see “all or nothing” thinking in our culture? In your marriage? Realistically speaking, how many negative interactions do you have with your spouse – and how much do they effect your perception of your marriage? Can’t wait to hear!
Love to you,
A few announcements: we’re a little excited about our new book coming out in a few weeks with Thomas Nelson: With All Due Respect – 40 days to a more fulfilling relationship with your teens & tweens. If you are interested in applying to get a FREE copy and help us get the word out about it, apply HERE for the Launch Team. We’re not in charge of this one, Thomas Nelson is – so I’m already praying you get in!
You also may want to check out my co-author’s blog: DebbieHitchcock.com if you are living with teens, tweens, or twenty-somethings. She’ll help you keep your sanity! If you haven’t signed up for the parenting tips in the sidebar – DO. Seriously. I’m living proof these principles work – I have deep relationships with my kids as a result of them.
If any of the above conflict stuff sounds interesting to you, I had two spots open up in 2017 for me to travel to present my Respect in Conflict Skills on Steroids Workshop. Contact me through the website here if your church, school, or business would like training on how to foster respect, deepen relationships, and handle conflict better, let’s talk.