I had the great pleasure of going on my first petroglyph expedition near Santa Fe, New Mexico. I really didn’t know what to expect or what I would learn. After climbing up and through some volcanic rock, we started across a vertical rocky path alongside a volcanic cliff that bordered a mesa. Our friends began to point out a few petroglyphs – one here of a bird, one there of a spooky spiral a.k.a. “portal”, an occasional animal and what appeared often to be alien creatures.
As we moved through our hike, my brain quickly became accustomed to the white chipped figures and I was beginning to search and “see” the figures that seemed to pop out of the rock. From what would first appear to be maybe natural etchings from fallen rock or exposure to elements elk, deer, cats, dogs, and Kokopellis emerged.
What I was not expecting was how quickly my brain began to adapt to see the flora, fauna, and people etched in the rocks. It wasn’t long before I could see past the gray variations and folds in the rocks and begin to differentiate between a cat and a dog, a thunderbird, an eagle and a raven, dancing movements and what appeared to be sacrificial activities. It was interesting to pay attention to myself and determine if I was registering “happy” activities such as dancing, planting a crop, walking, and holding hands, vs. “non-happy” events, and the very slightest of facial expressions that indicated sadness or just indifference.
Even on etchings that are thousands of years old, I could start implying emotions, fun activities and gender, or what I thought was gender. Although there were no skirts, obvious breast lines, headdresses or other adornments that we call “feminine” in today’s society, one specific petroglyph appeared to be a woman to me.
Every day we walk around reading people we encounter. Regardless of whether they are up close and personal or walking towards us down the street, as humans, we are constantly “thin-slicing” another person. Our internal “chatter” is registering if they are friend or enemy, then male or female, and possibly socioeconomic background, among others. In less than a millisecond, we are quick to see if they are like “me” or like “them.” Many of us believe we are super great at correctly reading micro expressions, status, power, and tone. We may even take a leap and try to interpret intent.
Reading others is our protective mechanism. Yet, when it interferes with our overall judgment creating biases and stereotypes, it may harm everything from our relationships to our ability to be tolerant and empathize. What can you do to Quiet the Chatter?
Listen for generalization “speak” – everyone, always, never
Nurture personal awareness – Take pause. Check in with yourself. Ask – what am I really thinking, doing, saying and hearing?
Swallow a healthy dose of personal skepticism and humility
Validate assumptions – Look for data to support your “argument”
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