On Friday, 500 leaders from my company met for an annual learning event. Our keynote speaker was Luke Visconti, founder and CEO of DiversityInc. He spoke about the necessity to make everyone in an organization feel included and respected in order for people to make their best contribution and derive maximum satisfaction from their work. He also mentioned unconscious bias; that is, holding opinions about people that might affect how we treat them, even if we are not fully aware of holding those opinions. Luke’s speech was well received by the group and sparked animated conversations following the event.
Now, we’ve all heard the phrase, “To the man with a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.” As I drove home that evening, it occurred to me that I might translate that to, “To a person who blogs, all the world reminds them of a blog” because that’s what I was thinking about.
On Saturday morning, as I reflected back on his speech about unconscious bias in the workplace, I began to think about unconscious bias as it might relate to our older relatives. I remember how utter shocked I was when my mother casually mentioned during a Mother’s Day brunch that she had read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.
I had wrongly assumed that because she was old (probably 73 at the time- silly me!) and because she lived in rural Arkansas that she wouldn’t be reading New York Times best sellers. I was very wrong and we shared interesting books for the next decade, once I understood her tastes better.
And I wonder what other assumptions we make about our older relatives that affect how we treat them. Perhaps that they can’t learn to be tech savvy. Perhaps that they don’t understand today’s politics. Perhaps that they can’t make good decisions on their own.
Perhaps that we know better than they what would make them happy or be good for them. Perhaps that they don’t appreciate good music, good theater or good art. Perhaps that their wealth of knowledge doesn’t pertain to today’s world.
Looking back, I hope what I said at that Mother’s Day brunch expressed my admiration, not my surprise. And I hope I’ll always remember to check my biases at the door in future conversations with my senior friends and family and give them all the respect they deserve for the knowledge they’ve accumulated, the lives they’ve led and the wisdom they are willing to share.
Tip: To learn more about this subject, you might read Ageism: Stereotyping and Prejudice Against Older Persons by Todd Nelson.