Lately I’ve been busy talking to various clients about Diversity training, and used the opportunity to revisit Jane Elliot’s riveting, classis experiment on discrimination. In her grade-3 Iowa classroom, Ms. Elliott arbitrarily declared the blue eyed kids to be superior and provided them with extra privileges that the brown eyed kids were not entitled to. Within hours the blue-eyed kids were actively excluding their brown eyed classmates, calling them names, and engaging in otherwise discriminatory behaviours.
Bias is alive and well within us all. To pretend we don’t engage in stereotyping is to deny our humanity. The problem is that bias and sterotyping create artificial boundaries between `them’ and `us’. But in fact, if one goes deeply enough and honestly enough, it is readily apparent that any negative characteristic we identify about the `other’ exists within our own self as well. Think they’re lazy? ask yourself where you are lazy. Think that they smell bad? find that smelly place in your own self (literally or metaphorically… perhaps it is your biased thoughts that `smell bad’?).
Bottom line: There’s no difference between `them’ and `us’.
I invite you to observe the experiment and consider: where in your work life do YOU behave like the almighty blue-eyed? And where in your work life do you position yourself as the helpless, victimized brown-eyed?