This weekend our refrigerator died. Equipped with research and measurements, my husband and I walked into Home Depot. We opened doors, slid drawers, removed ice makers, closed doors, imagined the contents of our freezer in the compartments of each. After debate and elimination rounds, we had the one. Time to place the order.
Like magic, Nick (the name written in black sharpie on his orange apron) walked up. Mitch told the young man what we had decided. Nick nodded. And then Mitch said something that changed our course, “Nick, what’s your opinion?”
Without hesitation, Nick said, “I don’t like that brand.” We went on to have a conversation about the attributes and limitations of each. Nick not only sold these machines, he also dealt with customer complaints and service requests. Thanks to his input, we ended up choosing a refrigerator we had not considered.
As we walked away, Mitch said, “He was great!”
I agreed. He was. And said, “I don’t think we have seen that side of him if you hadn’t asked his opinion. You invited the conversation. You allowed him to share his knowledge. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have.”
And I wonder, if I was alone, would I have asked Nick his opinion? I know I was surprised by his knowledge. Twenty-something guy. (That’s my bias speaking.)
And I wonder, had he been older, would have seen him differently? Age and experience are something I link together. (That’s my bias again.)
I write this after reading Chapter 3 in Sara K. Ahmed’s book, Being the Change. One of the many benefits of working through this read is learning to examine my biases. The automatic assumptions I make that lead me to action or inaction. I know my experience at Home Depot was different because of Sara’s words and the exercises she suggests.
In the chapter titled Candor, she asks kids to quickly sketch a pilot, scientist, doctor, or teacher. My drawing of a pilot is on the right. Yep. That’s how I see a pilot. One that is based on my experience.
I could and do beat myself up about this, but being aware of my bias and addressing them is a better step to change. Sara calls becoming aware of your bias is “activating system 2.” System 1 is your unconscious behavior (action or inaction) that shows a bias.
I can see many of my biases. For example, airline pilots. I know they are there and need to be addressed. My experience with Nick at Home Depot highlights a subtle bias one I was not aware of. Being open, asking questions, reflecting, and be ready to activate your system 2 will help deconstruct bias. These are all steps that I’m working on so I can better lead students to do the same.
If you have not started Sara K. Ahmed’s Being the Change, I strongly suggest you add it to your summer reading stack and check out the inspiring group of educators who are studying the book for this year’s #cyberPD.