In May 2020, I was delighted to collaborate with Whitney Haldeman – creator of Blonde Atlas, to co-produce an online course entitled “What Is My Worldview?”. As advocates of conscious and sustainable travel, we wanted to unpack concepts of worldview, global citizenship and bias. We hope to be able to make this course accessible online soon.
In the course, I started to explore concepts of bias and privilege. Few of us like to think of ourselves as biased but it’s a fact that we need to acknowledge if we are to take this process of examining our worldview seriously.
Perhaps you're fellow travellers, and you can relate to the feeling of leaving the hotel, apartment, campsite… that you’re staying in, taking a deep breath of fresh and sun-layered air in, and then realising that you’re squinting – you’ve forgotten your sunglasses.
Sunglasses are of course an essential item on any journey – this humble item protects our eyes from the harmful elements of the sun (if you’ve got a decent pair!), and they also make it easier to see in bright light.
But whereas these lenses serve us, whilst also adding a certain panache to our outfit choice of the day, there are other lenses that are less obvious that we need to be mindful of – lenses that we have internalised and that alter our worldview, in a similar way to how sunglasses alter the world we visibly see.
Our internalised lenses are anything that add a perspective or opinion almost like a layer over the top of what we are seeing or experiencing. You might have heard of the expression “rose-tinted glasses”? Well this is pretty much the opposite of that, as predominantly the lenses we unconsciously apply are a little murky and perhaps make things look less appealing, desirable or palatable.
Here’s a light-hearted example: if you have travelled in Cambodia, you might have come across the type of cuisine that uses insects. As a British Westerner, eating insects is just simply not in my experience to date – in fact “eating bugs” carries a distinctly negative connotation. However, in many cultures around the world, eating insects provides a cost-effective way to access a good source of protein. Now on my first visit to Cambodia I turned my nose up at trying some of the roadside vendors spiders, but was that because of a lens that I wasn’t previously aware I had applied? Probably… I’m also a vegetarian so I’d have to figure out where insects fit in to that particular worldview, but in principle I need to ask myself “am I open to this experience?” and if the answer is no, ask “why not?” If the reason is routed in an unfounded bias, i.e. “bugs are gross”, what can I do to challenge that?
A couple of years ago I began a humbling process of engaging with a number of fantastic books and texts exploring unconscious bias, particularly regarding racism. I had been firmly challenged by a friend of mine to spend some quality and difficult time with a series of books that included “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”, as well as online and reflective activities such as the “Me and White Supremacy” series.
This was not easy. At first, I resisted the idea that I needed to engage in the process. It’s easy to become defensive during times like these, when we are challenged and feel that it is unjust.
Understanding our own bias and privilege is a process and cannot be cheated or skipped through. If like me you’ve been challenging yourself to learn new things recently, then I’d liken the process of acknowledging, reviewing, and ultimately challenging our lenses to see whether they’re beneficial, or prejudicial and harmful, to the process of getting to grips with yoga or meditation. To begin with you are all off balance and you have to keep stopping to remember how to position yourself, your breath feels uneven, and the noises outside are too distracting. But eventually new muscle memory begins to form, and we begin to build up a subconscious response to challenging our internalised lenses.
This is an abridged extract from my "What Is My Worldview" course notes.