From a young age, one of the core values that society attempts to drum into our subconscious minds is the idea of acceptance and not judging people. This non-judgemental quality, coupled with acceptance and open mindedness is supposed to lead to a more tolerant and culturally diverse society.
We’ve all heard the term ‘political correctness gone mad’. The idea of the exaggerated health and safety official running around renaming blackboards as chalkboards and banning Christmas trees to avoid offending some minority or another is probably something we’ve all had a good laugh about over time.
I think, however, that people seem to missing a trick here. Humans, as it’s well-known and documented, evolved from certain species of apes and we’ve taken over the planet. The reason for our continued success as a species isn’t the same reasons lions continue to thrive (nothing can kill them) but it’s more because we’re so damn good at killing other stuff.
There are several reasons why we’re such good death dealers. Mainly, it’s the inventiveness we display as a species – we’ve got the fire. However, one of the other tools at our disposal is our ability to make snap judgements about situations that are a threat to us. If something’s flying through the air towards your nose, you duck. (I, on the other hand, dear reader, merely cower and wait for impact; I would not have been successful as a hunter-gatherer)
That reaction to danger, that instinct to duck out of the way at whatever might be attacking your face is one of the strongest assets we have as a species. They don’t say ‘human in the headlights’ for an expression of fear, because the human has already reacted and thrown themselves out of the path of oncoming danger.
I would like you to pause for a second, reader, and attempt to apply that concept of ‘flight or fight’ instinct to everyday life. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Done? Good. You probably couldn’t think of many situations where this applies. Entirely fair. The human mind and body are two immensely complicated things (it’s been said that if we could understand the human brain, it would have to become so simple that we’d lose the desire and ability to understand it anyway). Due to the vast swathes of intelligence allowed to us, our societies, cultures and lifestyles have evolved faster than poor Mother Nature can keep up with, and we haven’t evolved very much in response to this growth. As such, we still live and operate with the same flight or fight, snap judgement, instinct driven responses as our ancestors. Handy for protecting oneself from predators, not so much for explaining to your boss why you’re reading a blog on work’s time, extra adrenaline, increased breathing and tunnel vision being just a few of the physical responses of the human body to acute stress.
However, as life continues to be fairly slow-paced for the average human, and as these hyperarousal responses become less and less relevent (and in fact, harmful – you’ve heard of so many illnesses caused by stress – meet the real culprit), Mother Nature will eventually catch up and things will change.
Coming back round to my first point, about non-judgementalism, humans are doing what they can to help Mother Nature along in this process. No more flight or fight response, no more snap decisions. Humans will take as much time as Ents to make any choices and far fewer mistakes will be made.
Let me spin you a tale. You’re in an office, when a fire alarm goes off. You know that one of your co-workers is in a wheelchair. You take so long considering whether or not to help them out of the building that you both burn to death. Or, you are so non-judgemental that you didn’t realise that they were disabled, so you flee from the building and they burn to death. Right now your flight response would give you the adrenaline and the oxygen and the other resources that your body needs to get out of there, and your previous judgement that your co-worker is disabled and therefore can’t get down the stairs in an emergency leads you to help them in getting out of there too. Imagine a world so devoid of judgement, where everyone is so worried about being politically correct, that they don’t help the guy in the wheel chair for fear of offending him with your assessment of his capabilities.
Judgement isn’t the bad guy – judgement is how human beings assess the situation and know how best to react. Acceptance is the more important aspect of life these days. Use your observations to judge the situation, the people, whatever else needs judging. That’s fine. What you then need to do is assess what you’ve judged to be acceptable. You’ve judged that the cashier in the store is asian, but you’ve then assessed that as an acceptable fact.
Everyone judges – it’s human nature. We just need to encourage people to accept the results of their judgements.
Remember, the phrase is ‘deer in the headlights’ and not ‘human in the headlights’ for a good reason.