A recent incident gave me a glimpse of what divides us in our workplaces, as well as in wider society.
My grandkids (five and eight) were enjoying a kids’ dinner served on skewers at a Melbourne cafe on a warm summer’s evening – a new year’s treat.
A huge beetle was flying nearby and at first the family thought it was a bird. It suddenly flew close to the kids and my daughter said it was a beetle.
My grandson wanted to run away but was trapped by an outdoor cafe barricade. He jumped up on his chair, screaming and waving his skewer, stabbing the air like a sword, trying to defend himself from the threat.
He became hysterical, his little sister then got upset too. He sobbed in my daughter’s arms after she rescued him and she asked the boy: “Why were you so upset, it was just a beetle?” And he said “because I don’t know anything about beetles”.
I wonder how many of us FEAR people and cultures PRE-JUDGING that this person or that group are not good or might do us harm, when in fact we really KNOW NOTHING about them.
Fear and racism go hand in hand, so what can we do about it?
1. Research and become wise
Having identified in yourself a fear of a species or a culture, or recognisng a dislike or negative judgment without knowledge, or a tendency to avoid or exclude certain people, it is time to become smarter and wiser, by learning. Instead of making uninformed comments, sounding stupid or acting ignorant, we should all make effort to learn new things instead and share knowledge. My grandson is now learning everything he can about beetles.
2. Don’t be passive if you see someone being treated badly at work
Speak up for others. Don’t accept racist comments or jokes, which many people often don’t realise are hurtful or inappropriate. Explain why it is a problem and how it can be perceived.
When someone is upset talk to them, hear how they feel, have empathy and caring ad imagine how you would feel in that case.
3. Instigate team conversations about mutual respect for others in the team
Discuss what respect means. Talk about how it is not just about rude remark, but is also about ignoring, excluding or avoiding people. Create a code of conduct – ground rules – for your team and discuss consequences for not sticking to the agreed behaviours. Maybe share where you all can go wrong, how you have some learned behaviours… and what needs to change. Discuss books and articles that promote non-racism. Discover the things that make everyone special by developing a deeper understanding about each other by asking interesting questions, sharing stories of culture etc.
4. Be proud
Tell others about how your workplace cares and what you have done to develop awareness and knowledge, and how the respect within the team is growing as a result. Continue to find new understanding and appreciation. Be a role model for peace, harmony and team co-operation. Be proud of being a person, a team and an organisation that truly cares about everyone.
Now – stare at the beetle and see an amazing creature… and think about what you need to improve and how knowledge and understanding breaks down fear, resentment and hatred.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.