Monday, July 21, 2014

Learning to act right (42)… building stereotypes from nothing
Torrey Orton
July 21, 2014

 Once more again with feeling…

Repetition is the heart of learning almost anything. Noticing that one is repeating certain experiences is the heart of capturing unconscious learning in motion. Until captured by awareness the unconscious process unfolds with certainty and produces actions assumed to be right automatically…which is what a habit does.

Repeated experiences are based on sufficient uniformity of actions, circumstances and purposes to survive generalising over time. That is, an effective habitual response requires a consistent experience base. The test of an effective habit is it works for me, and maybe others.

 Once more, the Fertility Control Clinic

So, back to the frontline at the Fertility Control Clinic. My colleague T., the regular security guard, with more than a year’s experience 6 days a week at the Clinic, has acquired an unscratchable itch about certain classes of arriving patients. The itch is their perceived resistance to him executing his security role to his standards of adequacy (which independent observers class as high).

The routine is supposed to go like this: for each arrival at the Clinic (an action sequence of about 3-5 minutes duration depending on how far down the street they come into view, repeated at unpredictable intervals about 15-18 times a morning over a 90 minute period) he walks towards them to escort them past the Catholic anti-abortionists and then up the pathway into the Clinic*. At the Clinic front door he unlocks the door and admits them to reception, turns around and leaves, closing the door (and so relocking it again). Patients usually come in pairs – a patient and her partner, family member, friend, etc. – which makes a small crowd at the door.

 Unintended injuries
Here’s where the stereotyping begins to be built, and then reinforced and embedded. A proportion of arrivals do not notice T. is getting out keys while walking towards the door and saying, “I’ll open the door”. They may miss his call because their English is weak, because they are apprehensive about being there in the first place, because his English is accented, because they do not know his role though he’s clearly marked as Security, and so on….with the overall consequence that he is unable to effectively, from his viewpoint, play his role correctly – to care for patients until they are safely inside!! This is seriously angering. The people he’s supposed to protect unwittingly make it difficult for him to do so to his standards of service!! A classic unintended injury.

The backwash of this injury to his professional self-regard has hardened into stereotypes, the effect of which is to raise his blood pressure well beyond appropriate levels, while not affecting his presence  and conduct to all patients. When he sees suspect patients (from his developed stereotype viewpoint) on the street horizon he’s already expecting trouble for him which he cannot, so far, prevent because the situational variables reduce everyone’s capacity to respond ‘rationally’. There are few patients, or protestors, arriving at the Clinic who are not in a heightened state of some kind.

There is very little room for altering the context to allow new perspectives and awareness to arise. There is no relationship with the patients other than offering a kindly reception, including obstructing their harassers (an emotion priming activity). There is no room (?) for engaging the patients about their potentially, from T’s viewpoint, injurious behaviour towards him because the relationship is too fraught with implicit intent and brevity of exposure. So, the injury is incorrigible, unmitigatable…the very stuff of hardened emotional arteries set in permanent ineffective defence for T. Micro-traumas recurring persistently. Perhaps this kind of pattern is why few Clinic security staff last very long at full exposure.

I have raised my perception outlined above w/ T. in various less complete forms over recent months, prompted by his slowly increasing expressions of exasperation with his least favourite types.  This is the beginning of creating a space for reflection and change, I expect.

*the over full richness of this sentence somewhat captures the emotion and content density of the experience it describes.

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