Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.
—Mr. Rogers

At about age 8, my daughter began to join me on her bicycle on weekends when I would jog the neighborhood. It was a uniquely special time for me, and we got to talk about a number of things that might otherwise have not been accessible.

One day she asked me, as she was pedaling furiously, “Dad, do the parents of dorks know that their kids are dorks?”

In all of my years of sports and later running, and never once stopping short, at that moment I simply collapsed to the curb. Partly to restrain myself from laughing, and partly because I knew she was dead serious and I had no clue about the answer. I did not yet know that I would spend the first two and a half decades of my professional life exploring unconscious beliefs with psychoanalytic patients. Nor that I would spend a subsequent decade (and counting) training my own licensed, specialty-certified Mentor Coaches about many things including unconscious biases. And I could not have fathomed that my current wife would teach and train diversity at a graduate and corporate level.

Archetypes are, by definition, embedded in our psyches, as well as in the culture. These unconscious biases become a shadow story of stereotypy that can strongly influence perception and behaviors. Deep within our unconscious, we have associations that can only be called biases, even when we consciously abhor them. We each hold a collection of stereotypical beliefs and attitudes about social groups that exist often without our permission or even our awareness. These beliefs color perceptions, expectations, and decisions.

The assorted stereotypical notions can be based on gender, race, weight, age, and sexual orientation, to name a few. Regardless of our conscious desire to avoid the bias of stereotypy, these connections can shape the contours of our daily decisions. Normative influences—the unquestioned, established conventions of belief or value—become unconsciously downloaded as the fabric of our daily interaction, to become an integral part of our lives. These engrams then exert powerful impact to determine what we perceive and how we process our perceptions. Normative becomes prescriptive, determining the value of proposition, and “the way it ought to be done.”

Awareness and insight can change minds and brains. And once we become aware of something that was unconscious, it’s no longer unconscious. Authentic bonds with others can stretch our imaginations, invite empathy, and encourage understanding of the full range of human possibility to examine and change beliefs and behaviors.

As a panting heap on the curb, I had access to none of this future wisdom. I asked her, “Lauren, do you have any buddies who you see as a dork?” She thought for a minute, and said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” And she added, “It’s no big deal.”

And, I pointed out, “You still love me, right?”

She paused, and after an altogether way too long period of contemplation for my taste, finally said, “Good point, Dad.”