The Power Within: Using Mindfulness to Confront and Challenge Bias

Let me share a story from Christmas Day 2023, when my husband and I ventured to witness the snow-covered vistas of Mount Lemmon, a peak near Tucson, Arizona. It was an idyllic day, with many others relishing the sight of saguaro cacti and the majesty of the mountains. Mount Lemmon, towering over 9,000 feet, offers a serene getaway from the heat of the Tucson valley, attracting numerous weekend visitors. As we parked to explore this bucolic mountain town, an unexpected event shook our day. A sudden impact jolted our car, prompting a surge of frustration. Stepping out, we saw the other driver seemingly fleeing before it was obvious that they were just trying to get into a parking spot. My first thought was, our car was new- we had just bought it a month ago. Ugh. We now had a deep scratch on our bumper. Despite their contrite demeanor, communication barriers compounded our confusion; they spoke no English, and we spoke no Spanish. I went to grab my phone to call a friend who could hopefully translate. Another jolt-SOS was in caps- we had no cellular service. As I looked around, finding no one who could offer help, one of them produced a translation app. Relief washed over us. He shared his name, his Mexican phone number, and his Facebook page. I snapped pictures with my phone. We made the requisite exchanges of driver’s licenses, but insurance was difficult. I looked over, and their car had a Sonora, Mexico license plate. We did not know anything about Mexican insurance. He said he would call the next day. If there is a time and place for faith, I guess it would be on Christmas Day. On the way home, my husband and I wondered how all of this would turn out. We were just a couple of hours from Mexico- they could certainly leave and not respond to us. We still had a language barrier. And we were on vacation- could we get this resolved before we left for home? We also talked about how it would not change our lives if this did not work out. We could or not- repair the damage. Sometimes, it helps to know that. A scratch is nothing in the big scheme of things. The next day, we waited. No call. I tried calling him, but I could not get through. I contacted him on Facebook- no response. I told a couple of friends about the situation, and the typical response was, “You can kiss that money goodbye.” My anxiety and bias were triggered but I tried to be aware of it. I had no reason to believe they did not have integrity. These people made every attempt to communicate and soothe our anxiety. I believe that most of us want to do the right thing, and this situation was no different. And it was Christmas- people are busy with family. I also thought about them- and this is the crux of this story. Can I put myself in their shoes? I have traveled to over 30 countries. There were times I thought I had thought I did something wrong, and I was anxious. Now, I have never hit a car, but I hope you get the point. These people were visiting a country that reeks of racism. They were at a disadvantage with knowing our system. They had no idea if I would call the police or border control to report the incident. I am sure they were also anxious about what we would do. That intentional practice of empathy actually calmed me. If this were me, how would I want to be treated? Later that day, I got a call from one of their friends who spoke English and Spanish. She asked what we wanted to do and again shared their apology and their intention to make it right. I said I would get an estimate, but it would take a couple of days. She asked if we were open to a local shop. YES! That would be perfect. We went the next morning, and their mechanic could repair it, but it would take three days. We needed a car- three days without transportation on our vacation was not an option. I really did not feel it was my responsibility to pay for a rental. I asked how much the car would cost to fix. $150! Wow- I knew my quote would be more expensive. I asked them if they were amenable to paying for the rental car and the repair if that was cheaper than my quote. They said yes. My quote was higher, over $2,000, so we went with plan A. I must admit I was still nervous- the mechanic’s place looked more like a place for cars to die than to be revived. But again, everyone was congenial and helpful. Again, intentionally engaging in empathy was key. Who was I to judge how someone ran their business? It was working out for us. We dropped the car off, and since I did not speak Spanish, I could only chat with the mechanic by playing charades. I know this is a long story, but the ending is one made for fairy tales. We picked up the car, and it looked brand new. We had no issues, and we were filled with gratitude. The translator friend was kind enough to say they would show us around and take us hiking. A very generous gesture. Reflecting on the journey, I would like to say that I was aware of my bias, but I did have moments of anxiety, which were likely triggered by societal narratives. It is hard work to be self-aware. However, my mindful intention of going to empathy was incredibly helpful. In mindful circles, there is a practice: “You are not responsible for your first thought, but you are responsible for your second thought.” Disrupting your bias is a practice. You do not just attend training and Boom- you are biased no more. It is intentional, and it is a lot of effort. The same is true for mindfulness- it is a practice. If you want to become more empathetic, it means you need to slow down and think of how others may be experiencing a situation. And in my case, it was an invaluable tool.