Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
Let’s face it, these are volatile times when it comes to the political scene. Tempers are flaring, conversations are stifled, friendships – not to mention the welfare of the nation – just might be hanging in the balance.
This precarious atmosphere – along with a nudge from a colleague – made me feel that it was time to reprint an article I wrote back in that history-making election year of 2008. Sadly, the themes apply as much today as they did then. So, here it is, modified slightly to reflect today’s players.
The encounter took place in the late 1970’s in sleepy, charming Laguna Beach, California. My now husband was in his mid-thirties, newly single and – let’s face it – having a ball on the dating scene. Rumors have reached my ears of trendy disco bars, blond “California girls,” and nights spent walking hand in hand on the warm sand of a moonlit beach.
There was, in all that dating activity, one girl that stood out. Her name was Becky and (to hear my husband tell it) she was very enthusiastic about forming a permanent relationship with him. One step in that direction was for Tom to meet her parents.
At first this parental encounter was non-threatening to Tom; that is until the smitten young woman took it upon herself to “warn” him about the nature of her father’s political leanings. “He’s very Republican,” she said. Even to this day, Tom remembers his strong reaction to that simple statement. He immediately thought something like, “Oh, oh, maybe I’d better re-think this thing. I sure don’t want one of those in the family.”
“One of those” – hmmm, a most unfortunate phrase, don’t you think? Reminds me of “One of those black people,” “One of those immigrants,” or “One of those Muslims.” Trying to follow my own rule and not jump to conclusions about how guilty someone is of bias, I asked Tom if he could recall, all these years later, just what characteristics he so quickly was ascribing to this man about whom he knew so little.
To give Tom a break, this was 35 years ago and he really does have a much more open mind today. He was able, however, to recall some of the inflexible beliefs he carried back then about “One of those” Republicans. They included characteristics such as uptight, judgmental, lacking in compassion, and rigid. Sorry, Tom, but that sure sounds like bias to me.
Have you ever done this? Have you ever declared with pride, “I’d never date a Republican,” or found yourself thinking thoughts like, “Oh, I didn’t realize he was for Cruz, I guess he’s not as mature as I thought he was”? Or, to reverse the scenario, have you ever been reluctant to reveal your political leanings because you feared that those around you would impose characteristics on you based solely on your party of choice?
Each of these is an example of bias – defined here as “an inflexible belief about a particular category of people.” That “category” is “Democrat” or “Republican” or “Independent” (or, “Hillary Supporter,” “Cruz Champion,” or “Trump Enthusiast”). And, because it is an election year, this brand of bias is rampant in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our workplaces.
Some of you may hesitate to label such attitudes as bias, but think about it for a moment. How do they differ from assuming a man to be uneducated just because he has an accent? How do they differ from figuring that a woman is lazy solely because of her weight? How do they differ from judging a person’s technical ability based only on his or her age?
They don’t. “Politicism” is as much an example of bias as any other. And, like other biases, it deprives us of the friends and relationships that enrich our lives and enhance our workplaces.
By the way, Becky’s father turned out, as Tom put it, to “be a real sweetheart.” Funny, playful, the opposite of uptight, and utterly non-judgmental even of Tom’s rambunctious lifestyle. Did that lead Tom to pursue the relationship further? Lucky for me, it didn’t. But it sure taught him a lesson about jumping to conclusions and about someone who was – in this one way – different from himself.
Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for webinars and in-person presentations on defeating unconscious bias by clicking here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to www.thiederman.com.
© copyright 2016 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
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