October 1, 2021

The Conundrum of Conditioning: Are we Aware of our Biases?


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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about conditioning over the last few weeks, most notably in how parts of mine still “bite me in the ass” from time to time.

For the purposes of this little rant and exploration, I choose to define conditioning as:

“A behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement, with reinforcement typically being a stimulus or reward for the desired response.” (pulled directly from brittanica.com).

It also works in reverse by providing a consequence for negative and undesirable behaviors.
We are all conditioned from birth through a variety of sources that include our family of origin, gender typing, race, ability, economic status, media influences, and political structures.

The predominant educational system in this country is informed by creating and maintaining scaffolded systems for learning that rely heavily upon conditioning as well. The reality is that conditioning is highly effective. Habit-forming, mindset-coaching, even manifestation relies upon conditioned repetition.

In and of itself, conditioning is not bad. Conditioning becomes problematic, however, when it is running in the background and we are unaware of how it is impacting our decisions and behaviors. It’s like being behind the wheel on autopilot whilst blindfolded.

It gets even more problematic for those of us who are neurodiverse and highly sensitive. We are walking around with an oversensitivity that can confuse the message itself.

The entire collective is also going through a massive portal of collective accountability and change that was sparked by COVID-19. While it surely wasn’t the only problem in this country (systemic racism, right-wing extremism, economic instability), it certainly started the proverbial rolling of the ball down the hill.

We have all come face-to-face with some aspects of the current challenges and our conditioning directly shapes our experience and opinion of them.

The question is, are we even aware of where and how we are conditioned?

Here’s the opportunity: we get to choose our response and whether or not we will let our assumptions fuel our reality. Assumptions, by the way, are often not readily visible. They lurk in the deep recesses of the conditioning closet. Most of us are walking around with assumptions about life that we may not even be aware exist, myself—included.

A keen example of this was my choice to reengage in anti-racist work a couple of months ago. I made a statement that scared the sh*t out of me. The words “all lives matter” came out of my mouth before I even had time to run it through my filter. I literally bypassed centuries of abusive colonialism across the globe because I wanted to make it about myself for a hot second.


It wasn’t even my opinion, but there it was coming out of my mouth. Yuck. Poop. Shudder.

That’s conditioning folks. That little nugget was running in the background of my operating system and I didn’t even know it. I even found myself defending up around it for a second. So, there I was, really uncomfortable, and not altogether happy with myself. That would have been the moment I could have given myself an out, too.

What that rationale would have looked like is that I am not a racist woman. I never have been. No one would describe me as such and I have done quite a bit of advocacy work over the years. While true, in this context, these are excuses, bypasses, and biases. Yuck again.

I threw up in my mouth a little bit even while writing that.

Turns out I had no idea what I was talking about either. I had so little understanding of what was happening in this country. I looked away for a decade because I could. That is a hardcore privilege, and not only can I do better, but I will also be doing anti-racist work for the rest of my life.

The same can be said of personal accountability work and trauma work. I cannot and will not stop doing it.

Why? Conditioning is because why.

My nervous system was conditioned not to see color. That is a problem because color exists and we live in a society fueled by massive racial disparity. My nervous system was conditioned to want to disassociate when I do something wrong because I am afraid of punishment. This is a problem because I am a fallible human who makes mistakes. If I am not accounting for my mistakes with integrity and humility, then I am out of alignment with myself.

Conditioning is real, and it wasn’t until I could recognize it as an impediment to my progress that I really got a handle on how to work with it. No one likes making mistakes and we live in a patriarchal system that glorifies wounded white male power. Humility and fallibility are seen as weaknesses in this system.

Here’s the deal though. This system is crumbling. The siphoning of the majority for the benefit of a small minority is no longer sustainable. Our planet is pissed. Our citizens are one paycheck away from utter ruin. COVID-19 showed us just how tentative our economy was.

The large-scale experiment of patriarchal conditioning is failing.

Our ability to bypass this reality is getting harder and harder. Maintaining the status quo is not exactly possible anymore. We have reached a carrying capacity, and something has to give.

So, which way do we go?

Do we start looking inward and accounting for the places where we are still operating from a space of imbalance, or do we blame someone/something else?

Do we distract ourselves with the endless stream of what others are doing, or do we dig in and change ourselves for the better?

Can we step up to meet each other with kindness and accountability?

Will we learn to listen for learning rather than just to make a point?

Will we step away from what we had known long enough to see whether or not it is accurate?

Will we allow ourselves to change?

I don’t know. I hope so.

I’ll be over here, changing myself and sharing what I’ve learned. Even when I shove my foot in my mouth

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