As we approach another New Year, many of us think about resolutions, starting anew, and ways in which we can improve ourselves. We often think of breaking bad habits or starting healthy new routines. I am challenging everyone to think about the way we live and work, and the way we relate to, work with, and support others.
I would like to challenge everyone to use this time to reflect upon our own biases (both conscious and unconscious) and our knowledge gaps about race, gender, size, culture, sexual orientation, and religion. Few of us consider ourselves to be biased or prejudiced. But research shows that many of us, indeed, do have biases about different groups that can often be unconscious.
In 2008, I decided to welcome the New Year by participating in a Buddhist Retreat in Plum Village, France, with Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967 for his work opposing the Vietnam War.
It was one of the most peaceful, challenging, mind expanding, and beneficial weeks of my adult life. It encouraged me to stretch and “flex,” think, and challenge my ideas about religion and spirituality, meditation, and mindfulness. It was a new experience that has helped me grow as a consultant, facilitator, and person. It was an experience that highlighted intercultural awareness, and provided a different religious perspective and time for personal reflection.
“Almost all humans…have strange imaginings. The strangest of these is the belief that they can progress only by improvement. Those who understand will realize that we are much more in need of stripping off than adding on.” — Doris Lessing
Studies have demonstrated that individuals who say that they hold strong egalitarian values and/or believe that they are not biased may still unconsciously or inadvertently behave in a discriminatory manner (Dovidio, 2001). Harvard University’s Implicit Association Project has created tests that examine our “implicit” or “unconscious” biases. As a diversity practitioner, I work to challenge my biases all the time. Who might I believe is the “manager” of a work group if I first meet a team? Do I expect a certain individual to be outgoing because of their background?
This New Year, perhaps we can think about the power of our lenses and legacies. We can push ourselves to examine our potential biases and think about ourselves as allies to each other. In their article “To Equalize Power Among Us,” Margo Adair and Sharon Howell give us some helpful tips and tools on becoming an ally. Among the many valuable Do’s and Don’ts they list: “Don’t trivialize the experience of others,” and “Do name unacknowledged realities.”
Our individual actions, reflections, and behavior can change the worlds in which we work, play, and live. DW
Tanya Odom, EdM, is a consultant, facilitator, coach, author, and speaker.