Are You Dismissing Others’ Individuality (or Your Own)?

I am working late tonight because I shifted a mastermind call to accommodate a performer/entrepreneur who is traveling. I typically get a lot from our calls, but this one was especially moving and timely. As we struggle in the United States to create racial, ethnic, and religious harmony, there are similar challenges worldwide. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has reportedly smuggled thousands of gunmen into countries opening their hearts, homes, and wallets to Syrian refugees looking for freedom from the violence in their homeland. A few black supremacists called for violence against white people and police officers–on September 11th, a day that I will always remember as a tragic one that brought so many of us together.

I have spent my life wanting peace, for myself and others, and I am on a constant mission to create it through conflict resolution coaching, entrepreneurship, mediation, and whatever seems to be appropriate for the people before me at any moment. Tonight, I was reminded of the songs from The Musical “Avenue Q”, in which characters sing about everyone’s tendency to be a little bit racist–and how stereotypes tend to have a some basis in reality. We can all think of people with specific accents or mannerisms that we immediately relate to certain ethnic groups, and we expect them to have jobs, income levels and lives that match what we think we know about people we deem like them.

As a woman, I sometimes fit the stereotype. I have gotten into the bad habit of being late for my nights out with Peter. He often arrives, and I’m still doing my hair, putting on make-up, or getting dressed–often because I’ve been cooking dinner for both of us, working a full day, cleaning, doing laundry, and trying to check in with the many people I love. I tend not to ask for what I want or need because I am afraid of becoming a nag, which leaves him trying to guess or just me being upset because he didn’t guess or he guessed incorrectly. I know this fits the stereotype I’ve tried not to become. So, if you label these “women’s issues” (or PMS), I get frustrated and feel dismissed.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of being a woman (although I do have bouts of shame about my gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, profession, and citizenship). I no longer listen to people who limit my options because I have a certain physical presence–one that is deemed by some to not be a good enough representation of my gender. Apparently, I’m not hot enough…for sex with men who don’t appreciate me as a whole person with achievements, qualities, and a unique existence. (Oh, no. That was entirely why I was born, too. I was given a brain, education, and all of this life experience just for sex. Right?)

Just as there is only one you, there is only one me. There has never been the exact combination of anatomy, biology, chemistry, genetics, genealogy, geography, education, experiences, and characteristics. There is no other human exactly like any of us. There will never be.

That is why stereotypes are so offensive. They erase our individualism. They dismiss our uniqueness. They pretend there is nothing special about us because of a tiny percentage of our existence: how we look, where we came from, the language we speak, or the religion we do or don’t practice.

On the other hand, stereotypes seem to give us quick hints about how to act around certain people. We think they are shortcuts to safety or connection. Talk about shopping, weddings, and babies with women. Golf with men, but don’t drink with them, especially if you’re dressed slutty. Assume people of one ethnic group are smart and industrious, but expect those of others to be lazy moochers or criminals. Stay out of certain neighborhoods. Take that vixen in the red dress home for casual sex before you know much about her (or him). Then, of course, get mad at all of these other people when they don’t end up fitting the profile you created for them.

Maybe it’s not as bad as we think that the rules of the game of life seem to be changing. Maybe we should have been spending more time truly exploring and understanding each other.

This is not as big a responsibility as I once thought. I don’t have to know everything about everyone I come in contact with. Yet, I can always be a space for them to share themselves authentically, and I can empower them to live the dreams they might have given up on. There is much more room for all of us to succeed when we realize that our uniqueness allows for extraordinary integration–that we have been resisting in fear that success is available in limited supply.

ACTION ONE: DEFINE THE CONFLICT. I am sometimes in conflict with my own values and beliefs.

ACTION TWO: IDENTIFY THE INTERESTS. I have been aspects of all of the people I described above. I wanted simple rules to follow. I didn’t want to take the time to fact check the stereotypes as they applied to some people. I expected those people to live up to their stereotypes. I believed a lot of people who I thought knew better than I did. I sometimes still fall into this trap, not fully trusting myself to make good judgments.

ACTION THREE: PLAY WITH THE POSSIBILITIES. If I could have these conflicts resolve in any way possible, I would have (and take) more opportunities to know and understand people from an even wider range of backgrounds. I would be an example of integration, collaboration, and unity worldwide. We would empower each other to create peace and opportunity for everyone.

ACTION FOUR: CREATE THE FUTURE. I can still have much of what I want. This week, I will:

  1. Slow down, look for opportunities, ask more questions, and listen.
  2. Update the DIY Conflict Resolution book so we can release the new e-book and paperback version for global distribution–to join the conversations occurring all over the world.
  3. Watch and listen for stereotypes, investigate their sources, and reconsider their validity.
  4. Discuss stereotypes with my friends, family members and colleagues as they appear.

ACTION FIVE: STAY ON PARR. I will plan, act, revise, and repeat these actions until I have mastered myself around stereotypes.

What can you do this week to embrace individuality or understand people from groups you tend to stereotype? Is there more I should be doing? Please share your thoughts below–in a respectable manner, of course. I know these topics can trigger a lot of emotions. Let’s set an example of how they can be discussed with eyes on resolution and peace. xo

Nance L. Schick, Esq. is an attorney, mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. She is the founder of The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick, where she and her team of employees, vendors, and strategic partners deconstruct conflict and re-create it as opportunity, using a holistic, integrative approach. Nance resolves conflict and cultivates leaders, using her EEOC training, as well as her proprietary Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, which is described in more detail in her first book, DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master. She is also an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (2013 Pitch Competition finalist).