When you [ass]ume… Or, how to be a nice human

They teach you in nursing school to never walk in a room and assume how a family is put together. This is especially relevant on the obstetrics unit. In other words, do not assume who is the father or mother of the baby, and do not try to guess who is an extended family member vs. who is a friend. You’ll probably get it wrong.

I think this attitude of open-mindedness is how we should always try to approach things. Limiting your bias is a complex task and one that I continually struggle with.

For one thing, it’s easy to believe the wrong thing. There’s a lot of information out there, and filtering through it is a chore. There is social media, popular media, news reports, journals, blogs…(it’s even harder to know what to believe when such highly influential leaders claim major news sources are “fake news,” but I won’t get into that here…).

Then, there are the physical, real people who you regularly see. Whatever sources you expose yourself to will heavily influence your beliefs and your range of experiences. There is no one source or one person to listen to always. It is best to use a variety of resources and people to form your own opinions.

Based on my prior experiences, reducing bias [which I am using as a general, all-inclusive term for bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism, etc.] is a four step process.

  1. The first step – recognize that you might be wrong.
  2. The second step – listen to the other person fully. Try to understand what they’re saying without super-imposing your own beliefs over theirs.
  3. The third step – respond. Say your piece, what you’ve known beforehand, and ask for direct clarification on these new or different points of view. Lack of communication is the cause of EVERY MISUNDERSTANDING EVER. Refer to a history textbook if you think I’m wrong.
  4. The fourth step – reflect. Either together or in private, you should compare your thoughts prior to and following these conversations, because it shows where you started and how much you might have changed afterward. You shouldn’t be wishy-washy; still maintain some of your own ideas, but do so politely, without being obnoxious or overbearing.

So much more can be learned and shared when controversial topics are approached with a gentler mentality, something that is along the lines of: “this person may not have had the same exposure to information or personal experiences that I did, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt, listen to their piece, and then share my own opinions.”

It can be easier to be on the defense, to immediately justify what you believe and to correct or put down what someone else believes. Essentially, people are creatures of habit. What we already know is safe. What we don’t know is danger. But our differences make us stronger and they should be treated as learning opportunities. The stories we tell and the wisdom we have comes from the differences that everyone has, not their same-nesses [if you have a better word here for this, let me know].

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I took this picture 6 months ago on a family vacation. I think it shows the interplay of two very different cultural backgrounds, and how our differences are sources of interest and opportunities to learn more. These are people native to the area (Philipsburg, St. Maarten, in the Eastern Caribbean) vs. families vacationing from the USA.

Punishing people for their differences is one of the most backwards things we can do. Someone’s ethnic or racial or gender or other identity should not be the reason they are held back or disadvantaged in a system. We should make people feel welcome and comfortable rather than isolated and fearful. It will result in stronger communities, more genuine relationships, and more lovely, kind individuals. That is the world I would like to see.

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If you are like me, and you want to be more respectful but at the same time, you question your political correctness or cultural accuracy when inquiring into people’s lives, here are some things I have learned.

  • If you want to learn more, expand your friend group. Make friends with a variety of people. People who are different from what you already know. People from a variety of different backgrounds. People with other cultural, religious, gender or other identities.
  • Travel more. Either go to several places frequently or go to one place that you’re really interested in, and invest yourself in another culture entirely by going to the source directly.
  • Learn another language.
  • Rethink your common, everyday speech. For example, rather than ask, “what are you?” (see 0:18 for reference), it’s better to phrase this as “where is your family/where are you from?” I really recommend watching this Netflix series and the movie that it is based on for one particular view and a current, fresh look at black culture that it offers. Although the characters are fictional, the subject matter is very real. (Here is the link for the movie trailer.)
  • Look to other sources. Don’t limit yourself. Look everywhere. Watch documentaries, watch local movies, watch international movies and foreign films, read books, form opinions and be able to support them with valid reasons.

~end of post.

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