This law professor thinks it can be done.
This post is by Jeena Cho, a Legal Mindfulness Strategist. She is the co-author of The Anxious Lawyer (affiliate link), a book written by lawyers for lawyers that makes mindfulness and meditation accessible and approachable. She is the creator of Mindful Pause, a self-paced online program for creating a more sustainable, peaceful, and productive law practice in just six minutes a day. Jeena offers actionable change strategies for reducing stress and anxiety while increasing productivity, joy, and satisfaction through mindfulness.
Rhonda Magee is Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco. She teaches Mindfulness-Based Interventions and is a student of awareness and compassion practices from a range of traditions. I had the opportunity to sit down with her to chat about how we can use mindfulness to combat social bias.
Jeena: You’ve written and done a lot of work around social justice and implicit bias, and how mindfulness can help us to be more aware and to start to shift, and really use mindfulness as a tool for uncovering our own bias. Tell me about that.
Rhonda: We know from neurobiology that our bodies are formed to respond to perceived threats in one of a few deeply ingrained ways; to flee or flight. Polarizing is another common response.
Choosing to tend and befriend, to not flee, to know that there are other options often involves a more sophisticated engagement with our capabilities.
Moving from what many people call the early human aspects of the developed brain, the reptilian kind of brain and cortex and into the neocortex; the later evolved part of our brain that assists us in making these more sophisticated decisions, responses to these stimuli in our world.
Including the kinds of threats, we perceive when we’re looking at say, demographic change in the midst of all kinds of conflicts that are being presented to us and coming at us at what seems like warp speed in our culture today.
Mindfulness can help really, by assisting us in regulating the emotional reactivity that can come with a sense of concern or anxiety. It may or may not be consciously perceived as a sense of threat, but the body might be sensing some anxiety.
Research has shown for example that when analysts, demographers report on the changing demographics in our time, the “browning” if you will of America, the fact that we are becoming more comprised of minority or minority populations here in America.
The percentage of Americans who are for example identified as and identify themselves as white over time has been lessening, and is predicted to lessen in the next generation or so in a way that will be apparent to us and may call on us to meet each other around difference in different ways, and I think it’s already doing so. Research has shown that just to hear about those changes can create a sense of anxiety for people.
If the body is physiologically reacting, even if we don’t think cognitively that we feel that to be a bad thing or that we are necessarily biased against these changes or any one individual who might be seen as a reflection of such changes in our environment, our bodies often are signaling something different.
Mindfulness is just one of the ways that we can develop greater emotional intelligence, a greater capacity to notice different ways that our bodies might be signaling anxiety or discomfort. And again, through mindfulness and the allied disciplines of mindfulness, the reflections on our values, reflections on the insights that arise from mindfulness, that we are actually profoundly interconnected. So to the degree that we see ourselves as these isolated beings, us against the world. One of the things that mindfulness can do is help us to sense our way into our inherent interconnectedness. The breath alone by itself, for example, reminds us we don’t create the air that we breathe.