Check your bias

Javed Naeem Virjee Javed Naeem Virjee is an Audit Manager at KPMG Tanzania with over eight years of experience in the industry. As a KPMG-accredited facilitator, he also leads the Learning & Development team overseeing the planning and execution of technical trainings. Leveraging on his experience in managing expansive financial audits, Javed explores the intricacies of economics and finance in a column in the national newspaper, The Citizen. Beyond his day job, he is passionate about contributing to the community and is currently an elected member of the KSIJ Dar Constitution Review Committee. He has also served the KSIJ Dar Tabligh Board in the capacity of Hon. Treasurer.


Imagine a coloured stained-glass window; while allowing light to pass through, it casts a hue. Our biases (and by extension, our fairness), act similarly, influencing how we perceive and interpret information as well as influencing our decisions, behaviour, and attitude. Common examples of bias include confirmation bias (seeking information that confirms existing beliefs), implicit bias (unconscious associations), stereotype bias (attributing fixed traits to groups), and in-group bias (favouring our own group).

 Almost always these biases operate unconsciously, and we are likely unaware of their influence. It may surprise you to know the extent to which this can lead to unfair judgments and discriminatory behaviour. This is because biases distort our perceptions and decision-making processes, often resulting in judgments not based on objective reality or individual merit. Biases lead us to selectively interpret information and ignore evidence to the contrary. Even a small shift in perspective towards the positive can have a ripple effect, leading to a more just and compassionate world for all – but most importantly, within ourselves.

“The greatest form of ignorance is for a person to be ignorant of the condition of his self” [Ameerul Mumineen Ali Ibn Abu Talib (a.s)]

If everyone is biased, what does it matter if I am too? 

Unchallenged biases not only harm individuals and communities but also hinder progress towards a more just, empathic and equitable society. They create barriers to understanding, fuel discrimination, disseminate social inequalities and hinder our ability to connect with others genuinely.

Consider the scenario of meeting someone new and immediately making assumptions about their personality based on their appearance or mannerisms. These snap judgments, rooted in biases, can lead us to overlook the complexity and depth of each individual, preventing genuine connections from forming. 

Many times, it’s not even as obvious. Biases can impact our interactions with colleagues, friends, and acquaintances in subtle ways. For example, if we hold biases against people who express their emotions openly, we may inadvertently dismiss their ideas or contributions in professional settings, leading to feelings of exclusion and frustration. 

These biases also influence our decision-making in everyday situations, such as when choosing who to sit next to on public transportation or whose opinions to consider in a group discussion. If left unchallenged, these biases can reinforce social divides and perpetuate stereotypes, ultimately eroding trust and cooperation within communities. On a personal level, biases can affect our perceptions of ourselves and others, shaping our beliefs about what we can achieve and how we should interact with the world. 

Challenging biases allows us to see the world with greater clarity and open ourselves to diverse experiences and perspectives. It fosters empathy, compassion, and the ability to connect with others on a deeper level. We come to understand that despite our outward differences, we see our connection under the shared tapestry of universal human emotions. By recognizing our shared experiences and emotions, we cultivate empathy, compassion, and a deeper sense of connection with others.

How can I confront my biases? 

Introspection is crucial; the first step towards dismantling these biases is acknowledging their existence. We all have them, regardless of our intentions.

Ask yourself, have I adopted stereotypes? What assumptions do I make unconsciously? What is my immediate explanation of an event/person, that I arrived at without deliberate thought? Is it very uncomfortable to consider the opposite of what I’m now thinking? Once you identify your biases the real work begins, which is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix. Even though it’s tough, every effort, every conversation, and every act of empathy contributes to dismantling biases.

Start by looking inward and reflecting on your own experiences and upbringing, considering situations where you might have made assumptions or judgments based on biases. Unmask your blind spots by taking a look at your own assumptions and prejudices, questioning your ‘autopilot’ and its influence on your thoughts and actions.

Step out of your comfort zone to actively engage with people from different backgrounds and cultures; read books and articles by diverse authors; watch documentaries that challenge your perspectives and provoke a positive thought process.

Challenge stereotypes by resisting the urge to jump to conclusions, questioning your assumptions and generalizations associated with different groups, and recognizing that individuals are unique and defy categorization.

Practice empathy by imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes to try to understand their experiences and perspectives, even if you disagree with them. Expand your thinking horizon by allowing varying and conflicting explanations of the same situation to be part of your thought process, as you gradually arrive at the appropriate comprehension.

Embrace open dialogue by engaging in respectful conversations about biases and discrimination. Listen actively and be willing to learn from others. At the same, one needs to have a good understanding of biases to be able to identify instances when they may be used against you.

The ripple effect

By collectively recognizing and overcoming our biases, we can create a world where empathy and understanding pave the way for a more just future for all. Challenging our biases is not just a personal journey, it’s a collective responsibility. By acknowledging and overcoming our own limitations, we create a ripple effect of empathy and understanding.

Imagine a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected, a classroom where diverse voices are celebrated, or a community where inclusivity is the norm. This is the power of challenging biases, and it starts with each of us.

Reference: https://www.al-islam.org/mizan-al-hikmah-scale-wisdom/ignorance 


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