Why Focusing on #stopasianhate Alone isn’t a Good Strategy, according to Neuroscience.
And how we can use this insight to improve parenting, leading a team, leading ourselves, and make a better world.
So you’ve probably seen a sea of #blacklivesmatter and a pond of, hopefully, #stopasianhate. Public responses to anti-Black racism seem to outweigh those to anti-Asian racism; it gained way more attention. In fact, when I tried to attach the hashtags for this article on Medium, the former showed 53k and the later showed 5. There’re many reasons why it’s so, among them are that Black Lives Matter has been the results of centuries of organizing and that Asian culturally tend to be less vocal. But scientifically speaking, there’s a much bigger contributing reason that has nothing to do with history or culture or anything in between. It’s plain science about how our human brain works. And learning about this is helpful for every real change aspired to be made, from individual to societal level.
Neuroscience says when our brain is in a positive state, which is known as a reward or toward state, we open up to new ideas and possibilities and come up with creative solutions. Indeed, focusing on solutions creates energy in our mind, motivating us to take action. On the contrary, focusing on problems can lead to blame, justifications and excuses, which really chew up our limited mental resources that could be used to shift a deadlock, according to the NeuroLeadership Institute. In this process, what our hyper interconnected brain does is to look for related ideas and as a result, actually strengthen the connections we want to deconstruct. For example, if your child plays near an electrical switch or run too fast, telling him or her to stop playing near the area or stop running may even make him or her do more of these.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on problems. It could help create a certain level of awareness about avoiding the problems. However, if we want to create real changes, then it’s more useful to put our attention on solutions because avoiding a problem doesn’t mean solving it, just like the absence of disease doesn’t mean health, and telling ourselves to stop eating fast food doesn’t mean we will get healthier.
Therefore, the smarter and easier way to replace a thought, a behavior, a belief or a habit is to create new wirings, instead of unwiring existing connections. Over time, unattended connections will fade away, and the new wanted connections, if paid enough attention, will get hardwired further. Now with this lens, we will see while #blacklivesmatter shows wanted thinking and belief and inspires action that aligns with such belief, #stopasianhate could lead to inaction — including not sharing the hashtag, or even more hate. In other words, stopping hate doesn’t mean love, or stop discrimination doesn’t mean inclusion.
In addition, another highly important element to help hardwiring new habits is positive feedback. Instead of pointing what people do wrong and createing harmful narratives that could lead to further divide (which media is so good at, and worse, we often fall prey to their programming), acknowledgement and encouragement helps create a toward state in the brain, which then facilitates real changes.
So how about #asianlivesmatter or another vision-focused hashtag? How about scanning for and acknowledging more of realities that reflect that, like the representation in the Congress? How about counting the previous and discussing the new opportunities for inter-racial collaborative efforts that has contributed and will contribute more to the unique beauty of this country? How about creating a social media challenge of naming your favorite Asian authors and movies? How about celebrating Raya and the Last Dragon by Disney even when it’s taken almost 90 years for South East Asian to be ventured in Hollywood? If we do, we’ll see more inclusion of Asian which may inspire inclusion of all cultures.
As a parent, how about coaching our kids on a plan to get focused instead of blaming and shaming them, for getting really distracted during online class hours by watching YouTube videos, chatting with his friends, and playing in games? How about spotting their wins and progress based on that plan, however small they are, so their brains gets the signal to do more of what you, and they themselves deeply want to work on? How about paying attention to and providing positive reinforcement regarding moments when our elder kid caring about the younger one, instead of scanning for the times he shouts at his younger sibling over a toy? If we do, we’ll notice a happier, striving and more loving child.
As a leader, how about creating that inspiring vision and empowering the teams to unleash their talents and work towards that vision instead of throwing blame and threats? How about making time to celebrate more frequently instead of only talking about what goes wrong or immediately moving onto a next task? If we do, we’ll observe a deeply engaged and highly performing team.
As an individual, how about honoring where we come from instead of self discriminating even before we may be biased by others? How about visualizing the person we want to become, creating an action plan to get there, and, tapping into our unique natural gifts and life purpose to fuel our dreams and serve the world, instead of finding faults with ourselves and doubting our own worth? How about creating new good habits by taking small imperfect action consistently every day instead of telling ourselves not to have the old unhelpful habits? If we do, we’ll enjoy living our best versions.
So no, we don’t need a magical wand to bring about meaningful changes: understanding how our human brain works and giving it love-and-solution-fueled assignments can do the magic. And serving women of different nationalities from this global home, continuing to help uplevel happiness and performance of diverse organizations from this planet earth, and well, writing this article from just another corner in this world are among such assignments I’ve given to my own brain.