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Building Social Resilience to Combat Bias

Resilience is defined as the ability of a material to spring back into shape after being stretched or compressed – and this definition should not be limited to rubber bands and flubber. The ability to bounce back when encountering adversity, failure, or opposing views will enrich your time and better prepare you to thrive in the external world.

Discussing differing perspectives should operate like a brainstorming session for ideas leveraging intellectual vitality instead, as opposed to a loudspeaker reinforcing any one point of view. Unfortunately the latter mimics many aspects of our current world (especially on social media). Part of being a human is being exposed to ideas that seem to (or might actually) push the status quo, challenge our assumptions about inclusivity, and our own perspectives and unconscious bias. Inherently, this type of thinking can lead to emotional reactions as they challenge our worldviews.  

Having these feelings is appropriate, allowed, and encouraged. The next step is ensuring that we use them productively. The world can be an anxiety-inducing place at times. These conversations are perfect for building resilience and practicing communication skills to handle life’s curve balls.

This doesn’t mean simply accepting ideas you disagree with, especially if they involve prejudice or oppression of a particular social group. Instead, here are some best practices to help you wrestle with challenging situations and cultivate your community’s resilience:

  • Talk about it. Stay involved in conversations about challenging topics by being honest and open with yourself while being respectful of different points of view. Talk to other people, and learn more about their opinions, without judgment.
  • Think about it. Critical thinking is essential to understand why you are affected by something and overcoming fallacies and biases. Ask yourself what you’re struggling with, its source, and why you disagree. Each person has inherent biases, so it’s your responsibility to investigate them. If you feel offended or empowered, ask why.
  • Cultivate Empathy: Put yourself in others’ shoes. Engaging in exercises like perspective-taking can help in understanding and feeling the emotions of others, thereby reducing prejudiced attitudes.
  • Challenge Stereotypes: Actively challenge and question stereotypes when you encounter them, whether they arise in conversation, media, or in your own thoughts. Correcting generalizations with facts and personal stories can combat unfounded biases.
  • Build Diverse Connections: Actively seek out relationships and interactions with individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. Diverse social networks expose us to a wide range of viewpoints and enrich our understanding of the world.
  • Be Accountable: Recognize that everyone, including yourself, can hold biases. Admitting and addressing them is crucial. If you make a mistake, apologize, learn from it, and strive to do better.

If you feel like you are ready to turn those thoughts and reflections into action, consider the following: 

  • Engage with it. Consider contributing a letter to your local newspaper, get involved at public hearings, raise awareness, participate in organized demonstrations and carry out social action or a community service project related to the issue. While challenging, be sure to do so in a productive AND respectful way. Continue asking questions and having hard conversations along the way.
  • Rebound from it. As well as taking action, you’ll need to take care of yourself when challenged with powerful and uncomfortable emotions. Mindfulness is a tool that can help you handle the range of negative emotions that might arise. It can give you greater insight, understanding, and ability to express your views productively. Speaking to trusted individuals like friends, family and faculty is also an excellent way to process issues and strong feelings.

Building social resilience to combat unconscious or implicit bias involves cultivating an ability to connect with diverse individuals and groups, fostering mutual understanding, and actively challenging prejudiced beliefs and behaviors. By fostering open dialogues, encouraging empathy, and promoting education, community members can develop a shared resilience against the harmful effects of bias and discrimination. This form of resilience goes beyond the individual, creating a collective shield against division and prejudice. As individuals strengthen their interpersonal connections and strive to understand perspectives outside of their own experiences, they contribute to a society that values inclusivity and is better equipped to confront and dispel biases.

Remember, society and communities are diverse. Take responsibility for acknowledging and tackling a range of differing perspectives and ideas with the goal of growing resilience, supporting your, and your community’s mental health and well-being.  

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