Illustration: Joey Guidone

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Here Comes The Judge
Sociologist Janis Prince, PhD, writes a prescription for seeing the world more clearly.

You spot a woman buying shampoo in CVS, and within seconds you’ve mentally clocked her income level, social standing, and jeans size—all without exchanging so much as an “excuse me.” Sound familiar? Snap judgments are a biological necessity handed down from our ancestors: Often a glance was the only thing they had to go on when sizing up their surroundings and calculating risk. But in a world as codified and gendered as our modern one, it’s a little odd to be lugging around a suitcase full of biases that shape and warp our perception. You spot someone who looks “threatening” and immediately cross the street—a seemingly innocent maneuver, sure, except there can be high psychic costs and real-world consequences when we make certain judgments about strangers.

Changing one’s approach isn’t a cakewalk. It’s easier not to interrogate every experience, and who doesn’t want easy? But we can talk ourselves into at least being occasionally conscious of the flawed or problematic ideas our unconscious might be hinting at. As an experiment, next time you find yourself rushing to judgment, try asking yourself these questions:

  • What other explanations are there for this situation?
  • How might I feel if I were the other party in this situation?
  • How might the other party describe this situation, if they were recounting it?
  • How might I see this if I were male/female?
  • How might I see this if my skin were a different shade?