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Society

Let's drop our biases and embrace diversity

Record proportions of people travel to other
Record proportions of people travel to other areas locally, regionally and around the world. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Record proportions of people travel to other areas locally, regionally and around the world. In middle ages Europe, the vast majority of all inhabitants spent their entire lives within one mile of where they were born.

Hundreds of years later, technology via airplanes, cars, telephone lines, facsimile machines, internet, email, and high-speed trains brought the world closer together in the last century. Social media and smart mobile phones are transforming how we connect together in this century.

Whereby in previous centuries, strong cohesion would occur in local areas according to geography. People felt a sense of connection and community to those around them and would stereotype other people from further away lands.

Much stereotypes over time occurred between neighbouring areas. Kenyans stereotyped Tanzanians, British stereotyped the French, Americans stereotyped Mexicans, and Japanese stereotyped the Chinese as examples.

But in the social media age, we join different social tribes according to hyper-specific criteria. We can choose to only interact with other people who agree with us politically, religiously and socially. Social media is designed to tune everything else out except those who agree with our views.

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Such hyper-selectivity proves dangerous. We have an entire "generation z" coming up who cannot tolerate opposing viewpoints and get super-offended at the slightest contrarian opinion. Famous examples come out of the United States where university students strike and protest if a guest speaker comes to campus who holds a minority viewpoint.

In the three stages of the stereotyping process, someone develops categories and assigns traits to someone fitting a category. An example could be English voters dislike certain Europeans they saw on television because they reason differently.

Then secondly, someone assigns a person to categories based on the observable information they see. In our example, the English voter might tell someone is from continental Europe by the way they dress.

Then third, someone assigns people in the observable category the traits they originally felt to a small group they then push onto and assume everyone in the category posses. Finally in the example, English voters then assume all other Europeans reason differently.

Stereotyping becomes severe when we have fewer interactions with people who are different from us. So university students in the US coming from a social media environment throughout their formative years whereby everyone online felt similar to them when they later go and enter the real world, they panic with severe stress over hearing differences in others.

Racial and ethnic difference are of lesser disagreement this century, though still problematic, but ideas differences are rousing generation z.

As we all know, social media shows you want you want to see. YouTube shows you recommended videos only in your desired genres, views, and ideas. Facebook links you to other people like you. Twitter shows you content from those you follow and some recommendations from those you follow who they also follow. And it continues per each social media platform.

The whole concept of democracy gets threatened when voters do not obtain wide-ranging viewpoints. Workplaces falter when workers know only narrow skills and applications.

While the internet opens us up to whole new worlds, it only widens our minds if we specifically look. Otherwise, we get pigeonholed as described above.

Let us investigate what we can do on three levels: personally, organisationally, and as social media firms. Personally, become consciously aware of your biases and preferences. Write down a list of things you hold dear and your political and social preferences beyond surface level.

Then intentionally notice how your social media accounts specifically cater to your opinions and keep you locked into those preferences. Next, make it a point to biweekly read opposing ideas that contradict your preferences.

Then once a month intentionally share a meal, coffee, or conversation with someone who disagrees with you. Keep your mind sharp.

Second for organisations, survey and understand your employees' perceptions, attitudes, and intentions. Then organise monthly trainings or talks, Americans often call these "brown bag lunches", for staff to come together and hear from individuals with minority viewpoints. Specifically communicate to staff how your firm values those with contrarian thoughts.

Third, in social media firms, reinvent some hierarchies such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs but for the modern era: the digestible truth hierarchy.

Require social media companies to create a button for users to see: an opposing view, where does the post fall on the ideas spectrum, what is the truth rating of this sender, digestible truth hierarchy pyramid of from vengeful to anger to wishful thinking to based on true aspects to truth based on facts.

In summary, let us stay open and aware to new views. Group think and the void of opposing views brought Europe into World War II. Let us keep Kenya thinking and moving forward with diversity.

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