Chapter 13-5: High Plains Drifting - Bias and Dehumanization

It was a hard pill to swallow. To recognize that I was not as compassionate and kind as I thought I was. The research of social psychologist, Susan Fiske has shown how we categorize and differentiate people according to universal dimensions of perceived traits: warmth and competence. We must appreciate another in order to empathize. The least warm and competent groups (poor people, homeless, drug addicts, prisoners) may even be denied humanity and a meaningful mind, according to both neural and behavioral responses to allegedly disgusting outcasts. And here I was conforming to this mindset. We can go through life oblivious to the biases we have inherited through our upbringing. What we happily accept as normal. The good news is that compassion can reverse such patterns when perceivers must consider the other’s preferences, that is, appreciate the other’s mind.2

I realized that if I expected Bob to be treated with loving kindness then I too had to open my heart and educate myself about addiction and recognize the common humanity I share with addicts.

Hartweg's Sundrops

In 2007 we muddled through with a new pain doctor until our appointment in August, when at the end of the session as he held the door open for us, he said

  “There are honest patients but only until they find out how much it’s worth and then they sell it (opiates)”.

Once again, we were stunned. Had he really said that? Neither of us could believe our ears. This was so insulting, and we wondered exactly what he saw in us and his other patients. Were they all seen through the prism of drug seekers and sellers?