I admit I am a bit of a location snob. Having grown up in a large suburb 15 minutes from the city, then living in an actual city for most of my 20s, I am little biased when it comes to anything beyond those places. That’s where my comfort zone is, and I am fully aware of the limitations it puts on me!
So when I was offered to do some Connecting with Respect work in a less than urban or even suburban area, I was kind of nervous, but definitely up for the challenge – even though the client had to change the date of the work to accommodate hunting season. I mean, growing up the only thing I knew about hunting was hunting for a pair of shoes at the mall – which I went to every Sunday and more – but I digress.
Leading up to the trip, I would tell people where I was going and many looked surprised and some even offered a simple, “good luck with that.” It seemed like no one and not even myself was confident that this trip wasn’t going to be anything short of a disaster and that the people I was going to be working with were less than ideal candidates to hear my message.
I wondered if the material wasn’t accessible enough, if they’d be openly hostile to my being there, or if they’d just not say anything – the kiss of death for any facilitator.
The day of the workshop I was still nervous. And when I got to the site, I was greeted by my contact, who promptly told me that in my black pants and casual suit jacket I was overdressed. Oh no, I thought, I am in the wrong place the whole time I was in a back office changing into something more relaxed – my traveling clothes for the ride home!
But all that changed when I met the group and we settled into a day of challenging not only ourselves but our beliefs. By the end of the workshop, I was raving about having such open-minded and smart participants. Nothing like the group I had conjured up in my mind, who had nothing in common with me, because of where they lived.
So what’s the moral of this story?
Well, for starters our perceptions may be just that – perceptions. Because of the location and other circumstances involved, I allowed myself to believe every stereotype about rural America and the people who live there. The mind is like that. It looks for similar information and makes judgements before you can ever learn the real truth. It was only through allowing myself to really connect with the participants, because of who they were and not their stereotypical alter egos I had in my mind that I learned to appreciate and respect them for them.