I spend several hours each week helping my young neighbors improve their English. Last week one of the girls brought a library book that she had chosen for a book report.
She chose the book because it was short – not because of the content. It was a book about an all black baseball team in the 1940’s in America. (A land and a time she can’t relate to.) …So as she read the book I had a lot of explaining to do.
And that opened the door to talk about how racism and perceptions impact individuals and our world.
When she left, I thought more about the lives that are impacted:
- Being so invisible that people look right through you as if you aren’t there.
- Having people make assumptions about your knowledge and ability to contribute based on your job function.
- Having the same qualifications as someone else but legally being offered significantly lower wages because of your skin color or surname.
- Not being allowed to sit in certain public places because of your job function.
These are all situations I’ve considered partially because of where we are from and partially because of where we live now. …Situations that I’ve rarely been on the receiving end of.
However, on a recent vacation I gained a greater understanding:
We were traveling in a country filled with many poor people that have struggled harder than usual over the past few years. As we approached and departed from every tourist site merchants, just like in every other country in the world, surrounded us.
The difference here was that these merchants were desperate and more aggressive than usual. They wouldn’t just walk beside you as you exited an attraction, they would surround you, walk in front of you, shove their items at you and all speak at once.
Our guide told us not to engage with them in any way. At first we all struggled to do that, after all they were human beings. However, we quickly realized that acknowledging them instantly increased the volume of people we were surrounded with and the intensity of their efforts.
We felt dehumanized ~ like we were simply walking dollar signs, not people.
We felt harassed and the more often it happened the more defensive and angry I felt.
And then I felt guilty…
- Guilty for having what these people needed.
- Guilty for not knowing how to engage with them in a way that respected their humanity.
- Guilty for being defensive and angry.
And then sad, realizing that someone needed to break the cycle of dehumanizing the other, and not knowing how to do so in this situation.
Towards the end of the vacation, each one of those encounters caused enough of an adrenalin surge that it took some time to recover.
As I struggled to recover from one of those interactions, I found a new perspective and reasons to be thankful for the experiences.
- Thankful to have a tiny taste of what these merchants must feel like as people walk by them daily and don’t SEE them as individuals.
- Thankful that we don’t have to fight so hard to survive.
- Thankful for the reminder that we have so much that we take it for granted.
And although I still wish we had figured out how to engage with them in a meaningful way, the experience has encouraged me to be more intentional about engaging with people where I live that are usually unseen.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to live in the 1940’s or vacation in the Middle East to practice seeing and valuing others.
As titled leaders – Do you judge your employee’s ability to contribute by their current job function or by their knowledge and their potential? (I can tell you endless stories about people without titles that had the answers companies were looking for.)
As parents – Are you teaching your children to value others by their job function, their skin color, their looks, or simply because they are human beings? (Your child could become a wise and compassionate leader that creates opportunities for thousands one day…)
As neighbors – Who lives near you that is not really SEEN? (When we choose to open our eyes, to learn their names, to intentionally greet them, to give of ourselves we change their world and our own.)
Want more about how this topic relates to your organization?