Part 1: How Negative Perceptions and Bias triggered Zimmerman to shoot?

The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”  Marcel Proust

One youth dead, neighborhood watch citizen goes free. Everyone wants to know how and why did this shooting happen? One reason maybe that Zimmerman’s past experiences and his negative perceptions of black youths as thugs and therefore automatically dangerous to him and his gated community neighbors. He never learned how to balance his negative filters that colored his  experiences with black youth. What if he saw black youths in a more bright, optimistic and flexible light.  Instead he focused on the dark, pessimistic and inflexible thinking that constantly reminded  him that black youths are people who were always causing trouble and needed to be feared. 

Almost every creature comes into world more wired for negativity than positivity or optimism. Why? Fight or flight response. Say you’re wandering through the woods and you fail to notice the pretty wildflowers under your feet. Inconvenient perhaps, but not catastrophic. Now imagine that the thing under your feet is a rattlesnake. Fail to notice this, and its good night, Mark. Which is why we give the bad things in our lives so much more attention than the good ones—a phenomenon known as a negativity bias. The more you defy your innate negativity bias, building from your strengths, finding relief by looking at things from a more positive frame, and embracing delight wherever you can, the more you become stronger in controlling your own way in life. The impact of optimism  of one person living in acceptance of good things happening in life are immense. Become that person, and you’ll find that in spite of everything, when their is positivity in your life you will experience more happiness and positive interpersonal relationships.  It won’t necessarily change the reality of the situation, but the positiviness has a strong ripple effect on anyone coming in touch with you.

Most research on perception and thinking show how your memory of the past helps you determine what to pay attention to in the present but does not lock you into forever thinking that way. Checkout the 10 irrational thoughts that cause people trouble by Dr Albert Ellis. Recognizing faces or race is a simple way to distinguish friends from strangers without a thorough background check each time you encounter someone. We all use this function in perceiving our environment so we are not overwhelmed with too much information. We use this discriminating perceptual process to distinguish different types of birds or poison berries from edible ones. This is a good use of this perceptual function but we also use it as a short-cut for identification and discrimination of people and this can be a bad way to us this function depending on the situation an ensuing action.

We unconsciously make unfortunate  emotional investment in things that have happened to us in the past creating a closed, inflexible mindset that all “black youths wearing baggy pants and a hoody” spell trouble. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his popular book Blink, many of our life decisions and especially social interactions are based on little information that are generalized to specific situations almost in an automatic way.

Almost every creature comes into world more wired for negativity than positivity or optimism. Why? Fight or flight response. Say you’re wandering through the woods and you fail to notice the pretty wildflowers under your feet. Inconvenient perhaps, but not catastrophic. Now imagine that the thing under your feet is a rattlesnake. Fail to notice this, and its good night, Mark. Which is why we give the bad things in our lives so much more attention than the good ones—a phenomenon known as a negativity bias.

The more you defy your innate negativity bias, building from your strengths, finding relief, and embracing delight wherever you can, the more you become stronger in controlling your own way in life. The impact of optimism  of one person living in acceptance of good things happening in life are immense. Become that person, and you’ll find that in spite of everything, when their is positivity in your life you will experience more happiness and positive interpersonal relationships.  It won’t necessarily change the reality of the situation, but the positiviness has a strong ripple effect on anyone coming in touch with you.

My hypothesis is that Zimmerman, the shooter, may have used irrational beliefs based on past experiences in his encounter with Travon. When he saw Travon, on that raining night, he inaccurately identify someone as a “no good black youth up to no good” the hoody reinforced his suspicion and led to a self-fulfilling prophecy that this person was dangerous and something bad was going to happen any moment. With this expectation in mind he called 911 and began to actively pursue this dangerous person, even though he was told not to follow or pursue and wait for the police to arrive. He  expected to see danger or a possible attack, just as you do when you look at every plant expecting to see poison ivy or poison mushrooms. Past experience can set your filters up to see in either a positive, optimistic or negative, pessimistic light. Automatic filters are necessary, otherwise, your life would be bogged down in the need to resolve every minute doubt, prepare for every possible situation. But Zimmerman’s maladaptive thinking may have led him to belief that Travon, a young black man, signaled trouble and possible danger to him and his neighbors. These triggers led him to make a snap judgment based on past experiences. For example, when you listen to the 911 audiotapes of  Zimmerman with police authorities you hear his negative triggers and fears at work, he said something like these type of punks usually get away with breaking-in or doing harm and it wasn’t going to happen again on his watch. If in the past he had a positive past experiences with black youths his automatic “fight response” may not have been triggered and his snap judgment and action based on fear might have been stopped. Thus, averting the terrible shooting that left one person dead and the shooters life in shambles. If he had reacted in a more positive automatic filter or perception he might have seen the situation in a different light that would have made Travon’s and his life happier and help him to see the best in a person wearing a hoody and walking down the sidewalk in his gated community in a more neutral way as an ordinary citizen to be respect and treated with dignity.

So how do you in the moment of decision stop or block the negative triggers in your mind from putting you and other people in harm’s way and advert a dangerous encounter. By challenging your negative triggers and past experience which lead to negative stereotypes, poor decision-making and inappropriate actions. It is a thinking process I call the STOP. CHALLENGE. REFLECT. ACT. LEARN. REPEAT. learning cycle that gives you time to overcome your impulses and automatic behavior. I will cover how to STOP negative bias and impulsive actions more on my next post. Thanks and I hope this post provides some ideas on why this tragedy took place in Florida. We can all do better. Just STOP and Challenge our irrational thinking before acting.

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