We see the world from our own eyes, perspective and point of view. It’s too easy to react. We read into other people’s comments and most of the time, see things that are not even there. We all do it, no matter what race, religion or background we have, we all come to the table with our own biases and baggage.
Some of us get paranoid, others defensive. Some walk around with guilt, trying to make up for the bad deeds of the past generation or their identified group. But the real question is – how often do we become more self-aware? How often do we begin to recognize our own triggers and hot buttons? At what point do we become curious, rather than judgmental or thoughtful rather than making assumptions?
Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to coach a high-level executive in a major organization who is trying to further his career. He told me a story that I think reflects the challenges that we all face when it comes to bias and our own perspective.
During a visit to corporate headquarters he was walking down the hall when he was stopped by a very petite, younger Asian woman. Keep in mind that the individual that I am coaching is a very large, African-American man. He reminds me of Michael Clark Duncan, the movie star, who starred in A Green Mile and several other films.
When this woman stopped him, she asked him a very specific question, “Where is Africa?” He heard this question and immediately felt agitated and frustrated. His first thought was to let this woman know that he did not appreciate the racial overtones of her question and that he knew he was a very large African-American man, but to ask him a question like that was just uncalled for, insensitive and ridiculous. However, just before he was able to get those words out, someone walking by overheard the question and told this lady that Africa was around the corner to the right.
As it turns out, she was looking for a conference room. Every conference room in corporate headquarters was named after a piece of geography and she was looking for a conference room named Africa. A simple question requiring a simple answer that almost became not only very complex, but very emotional. At that moment the individual I am coaching saw the humor in the situation. He chuckled to himself and realized how much history had impacted him. He recognized that sometimes a question is just a question and sometimes we are just a little overly sensitive. He realized that he was carrying some baggage and it was time to let it go.
Isn’t it time that most of us recognize what we bring with ourselves and we let some of that baggage go?