Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
I suppose what makes a year a “good year” varies from person to person. For some, it is 365 days free of unnecessary drama. For others, a good year is filled with adventure or love or new beginnings.
For me, I consider 365 days well spent if I have learned something worthwhile. By that standard, 2013 was a good one for me. Each learning – as is often the case – was linked to an event. For me, those events fell into the magical number three: First, the launching of my video, “Gateways to Inclusion,” second, a professional trip to Singapore, and, third, the George Zimmerman trial.
You might think it odd that I list the development of my own video as a learning experience. After all, isn’t it supposed to teach other people things that (theoretically) I already know? Well, as it turns out, both can be true. Part of the process, you see, of creating a training tool is figuring out the essence of what needs to be said. In other words, in the realm of training, less is, as elsewhere, more. The problem is that “less” is always harder to achieve as it requires a sharper focus and the ability to prioritize.
In the case of “Gateways,” my job was to focus on which of several communication skills were most valuable to include in the video. After much struggle, I decided on three (managing emotion, avoiding premature judgments, communicating with respect).
It was at the moment of that decision that the learning took place. Much to my surprise, these three skills shared a common characteristic: Each requires some form of self-awareness. Specifically, awareness of our emotions, awareness of our judgments, and awareness of our language and attitude. Self-awareness – I’d never thought of it that way before and, as a result of that focusing process, I learned.
The second event was a professional trip to Singapore. I went there in May to address several groups about the ins and outs of bias reduction in conjunction with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices. As I prepared for the journey, my emphasis was on how things would be different in that tiny country than they are in North America. The cultures would be different, audience reactions different, and, certainly, diversity/inclusion issues would be different.
Well, once there, I learned I was only partially correct. Sure there were some cultural and audience differences, but nowhere near as much as I had anticipated. And, as predicted, D&I issues were different – less emphasis on LGBT and more on mature workers, for example – but that’s about where the substantive differences stopped.
Also, as it turns out, when it came to the underlying human foibles of bias and stereotyping, I might have been speaking to a group in my own back yard. Sure, the demographic groups were different – biases about mainland versus Taiwanese Chinese were, for example, prevalent – but the dynamic of bias was the same. I learned – bias and stereotyping are, sadly, the same the world over.
And then came the George Zimmerman trial – event and lesson number three. This particular lesson was, I’ll admit, a painful one. I watched and read about the trial in depth. I listened to what seemed like hours of talking heads, wallowed in days of conflicting testimony.
What did I learn? Not much about Zimmerman – only he knows what really happened. I did, though, learn a lot about how I and other people listen and observe. I learned that we hear what we want to hear, we see what supports our previously held view, and we believe what our biases deceive us into believing. Lesson #3: All of us, including me, need to have the courage to push our own biases aside if we are to see the world as it really is.
So, what do you think? Do you agree that 2013 was a “good year?” I hope so and may I wish you an equally learning-filled 2014.
© copyright 2014 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
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