This weekend, I went down to the bay for a birthday party for one of our family friend’s four-year-old daughter’s birthday party. When we drove up to the picnic area, I noticed a “Biker Gang” in the picnic area next to us. There was loud “hip hop” music blasting on the sound system. Every few minutes, the air became full of the thunderous noise of another group of ten or more bikers arrived to the park. As we started the birthday party, there were at least 75 “bikers” at the park.
We have many brain processes that focus on survival. One of these brain processes is “heuristics”. Heuristics is a basic problem solving strategy that uses a limited amount of data to generate a conclusion. This is helpful for survival since we need to respond immediately to any pattern that looks like a threat. For example, if we are outside in the mountains at night and hear a sudden noise, we need to instantly decide if that noise is a group of deer moving away from us, or an approaching mountain lion. If we decided to spend extra time to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the noise we heard was a mountain lion, it may be too late for us to get out the “threat zone”.
Socially, we are also programed to look for threats. We instinctively see people that have more similar characteristics to ourselves as not being a threat and those that are more dis-similar as being “outside our tribe” or a possible threat. Unfortunately, we may use this “heuristic” to evaluate people when there is no obvious threat. If we are in a social situation where there is no indication that someone is out to “do us wrong”, we need to use our conscious mind to suspend judgment.
At the Birthday party on the bay, I consciously reflected on the common cultural stereotype of a person that hangs out in a biker club. People typically imagine that people who associate in biker clubs as rough and tumble folks that are up to no good. When I decided to suspend judgment, I noticed that these guys had a bake sale, and a “bounce house” for the kids. One guy that was associated with the motorcycle club drove his ice cream truck to the motorcycle club meeting. Every “biker” that I spoke with was open and friendly. One of the “bikers” offered to help me move my Kayaks to the water. My kids had a good time with the “biker” crew. They were able to jump in the bounce house, they got cookies from the bake sale and they got ice cream from the ice cream truck.
As the old saying goes “you can’t judge a book by its’ cover”. Some times you need to gather more data to see the common humanity in all of us.