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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Too Busy? Rushing to Judgement

Please welcome back guest writer, Ryan Hansen, a graduate student in clinical psychology who often explores the psychology of racism here at BTSF. 

When we think we are being 'colorblind,' we actually obscure the reality of default prejudice and discrimination in way we think and act (both individually and as a society). It is much easier to ignore our problems than it is to fix them, particularly because fixing them requires active and perpetual attention.

Previously on BTSF, I have discussed a famous study by Gilbert and Hixon (1991). They found that individuals unconsciously used stereotype-related words on a completion task when the experimenter was an Asian-American.  This study, and many more like it, highlight the fact that using stereotypes is the default way in which we think.

That same study also indicated that inhibiting these stereotype-based responses is an active process that requires cognitive resources.  Gilbert and Hixon found that when participants were first given a task requiring a lot of attention, their responses relied even more heavily on the use of stereotypes.

This mental taxation is often called “cognitive load,” and it is a condition in which we frequently find ourselves within our high-speed, multi-tasking modern lives.  The busier we are, the more we will find ourselves contributing to the racial smog within our society. In our high-paced modern lives, we have all the more reason to actively acknowledge and combat our automatic responses based on racial bias.

Looking to Jesus’s examples within his ministry, there are many instances of the Gospel spreading after racial, gender, and ethnic stereotypes are acknowledged and intentionally worked through.  When Jesus met the Samaritan women at the well (John 4: 4-42), they actively talked about the significant ethic, gender, and religious differences between them.  The passage ends with an entire village coming to Christ.

Similarly, when Jesus heals the servant of the Centurion (Matthew 8: 5-13), he actively calls attention ethnic and national identities when he says that “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

Finally, there is the example of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37).  The whole reason that this story would have been remarkable in its day is that the Samaritan actively inhibited his fear and stereotypes to help the man attacked by robbers.  As demonstrated by the priest and the Levite, our default behavior, particularly if we are rushed or preoccupied, is to pass by those we should be helping.

How might the pace of your life affect your capacity to be an effective racial reconciler? What steps can you take to consciously combat the shortcuts our brains take when we are busy and stressed? 


  1. Thank you for this post! I have thought for a while that when I am running 100 miles/hour I don't have time to really "see" people, or to love anyone (including myself) well. As I now live in a community of immigrants, my busy lifestyle is constantly challenged. A saving grace for me is the practice of a weekly sabbath day (which in my case happens on Thursdays, since Sundays are hardly restful for those of us who work with churches!) In the last month or so, I have made a few conscious decisions and actions. #1. I have decided to spend from 9-10am on Monday mornings (the beginning of my week) in silence, thanksgiving, and worship. #2. I have set aside one morning each month for leadership reflection. I can't wait to hear what ideas others have on this... great questions!

  2. Good thoughts and suggestions, Josh! Are there ever times when you aren't able to engage in these disciplines? Do you notice a difference in how well you interact with those around you?

  3. Interestingly, because I have made a commitment to Sabbath with my family, and also because I have invited other community leaders into the 9-10am Monday morning time (which is new, by the way), those happen regularly, without fail. It seems that the accountability of these being community decisions is very helpful for me in particular. The leadership reflection time, however is a date with myself, and I am quicker to let this slip when things get busy. :( I do find that without those times I am more reactive, less proactive....and also am quicker to take things personally.

  4. It is amazing how much community can help. Very much a positive feedback loop! Interesting observations!

  5. Excellent post. I just love the christian perspective, combined with the psychology, and sociological perspective, to explain racism.

  6. Indeed! So grateful for Ryan's perspective!


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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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