One of the Rules of Respect that we promote during our respectful workplace program is ‘to value the many different sources of knowledge that exist’. While we present this as a guideline to consider during the program, I’ve also found it equally useful in my own life.

Recently I was chatting with a close friend who is African-American. She and I have known each other for years and therefore can be candid with one another, especially when it comes to issues of race. During the conversation she told me a story about discrimination. It wasn’t a story about discrimination that had happened to her but rather told to her by a good friend, who is white. She told my friend that where she grew up in the Upper Midwest her family had been discriminated against in their town, because they were from a different Eastern European ethnic minority than their neighbors. My friend, an intelligent college-educated woman in her mid-30s, couldn’t understand this story.

Why?

As an African-American, she had experienced discrimination based solely on skin color. To her, the concept of people of the same race not getting along was just unfathomable. All her life, my friend had viewed discrimination in terms of the visual while experiencing it personally through her visibly darker skin tone. This was the first time that she consciously comprehended that even people of the same race could hate one another.

I suspect this type of thinking is not uncommon. How many of us really consider the point of view of others or at the very least engage in deep conversations with people who are different, in one way or another from us? Because I had established a relationship with my friend like she with her friend, we were able to have a safe conversation where such a discussion could occur. Through such dialogue we can broaden our awareness and ultimately, start seeing things not only as they appear to us, but how they might feel to other people.

I challenge you to look for opportunities to expand your own knowledge about people and cultures, which appear different. I also encourage you to start examining your hidden bias by taking an online assessment offered by Project Implicit to determine where you could start learning.

Please feel free to share your results with me. I look forward to your comments.

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