Cultural Diversity, Diversity Conferences
 

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Beyond Our View


By Steve Hanamura


Several years ago I took a weeklong bike trip with my wife, Becky, and our good friends, Randy and Mollie. While riding on the back of the tandem one day I asked Randy how far could he see. We were winding our way up a steep hill and he didn’t quite get the gist of my question.  “What do you mean?” he asked.  I repeated my question again, this time with a little more animation.  “I want to know how far you can see!” “What in the heck are you talking about?” he snapped back.

I explained that sometimes on a bright, sunny day driving down the road in Beaverton, OR Becky tells me how beautiful Mt. Hood looks and that’s 90 miles away. It is absolutely amazing to me that one can see that far!  So I just wanted to know how far Randy could see, both in general and specifically from that point on our ride.

This dialog took me back to my days in southern California when my family could look out the window and tell me how beautiful it was on Mt. Baldy.  In these two examples the weather certainly had something to do with how far one can see.  Likewise, it occurs to me that someone could be standing right in front of us assuming that we can see them, but they are beyond our view.

Very early in my career I was in Boston working with a world-wide client.  While there I stayed in a quaint, little hotel. One of the employees there was an elderly gentleman who helped with luggage and drove the shuttle van within a designated radius.  I remember thinking the first time I met him that he must be retired, drawing social security and needs this job to supplement his income.  I thought it kind of sad he had to work as a bellman at this stage in life.  When it was time for me to leave he offered to drive me to the airport even though it was outside his normal radius.  He said he had time and there was nothing else going on.  During the ride, I learned that this man was a multi-millionaire and he didn’t’ need to be working. He was doing the bellman job just for something to do and more importantly he wanted to serve others. Wow!  How wrong I was with the assumptions I made about him. Making assumptions like this can keep us from viewing people for who they really are.

What causes us to make assumptions?  How can certain groups of people be beyond our view?  I addressed this in our book I Can See Clearly:

The following qualities keep us from including others in relationships:

  • Prejudice toward those who come from different groups or cultures.
  • Expecting down instead of expecting up. Many times, expectation of an individual’s ability to perform is based on a bias or prejudgment of how well that person can do his or her job or of attributes to a group rather than the individual on the job. For example, people with disabilities have complained that potential employers don’t expect them to be able to do the same work others can do or that they will need excessive accommodation.
  • Fear of offending someone who is different. In an attempt to be respectful of language, we have set in motion the need to be politically correct. Political correctness can make it possible to avoid harmful language, but it doesn’t allow for time to work through biases or concerns each group has about the other.
  • Lack of awareness. Bill Walsh, former coach of the San Francisco 49ers, shared in a television interview that he rarely thought of African American candidates when vacancies occurred for head coaching jobs. Does this mean there aren’t any qualified African American coaches? No. But it does mean that it’s out of our realm of awareness to give consideration to a candidate who is a person of color who might otherwise be qualified for such a position. We don’t necessarily intend that effect, but, through lack of awareness, the impact is the same.

How many encounters do we have each day where the people we talk with are really beyond our view and we don’t even know it?  In some team building workshops we conduct I often hear participants say at the end of a session, “I never knew that about so and so, even though we have worked together for years.”

The steps to increasing are ability to expand our view of others might occur in three different ways. I call it the Tools for Effective Dialog:

  • Be in the inquiry. Approach life with a sense of curiosity. Asking questions is a very good way to learn more about others.
  • Listen to understand that what another person is telling you is true for them, even if you don’t get it. We have this propensity to have to understand something before we allow ourselves to possibly change our thinking about a particular matter or even about a person.
  • Take action once you learn something new. This may mean changing your language when meeting someone who is different, or expanding your world view of how a person who is different could do their job.

It is a good idea to continually strive to expand our view of the world. Work hard to alleviate prejudice, bias, fear of the unknown when attempting to wrestle with concepts or even people who are different. Instead develop a posture of curiosity and possibility thinking when addressing new situations. 


June 2011

 



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