We started a recent fad on our family car rides where we find a riddle site and try to figure out the answers. It is fun and keeps everyone engaged rather than buried in their own screens. We came across this one.
A doctor and a boy went fishing. The boy is the doctor's son but the doctor is not the boy's father. Who is the doctor?
If you don't know the answer keep reading. If you do, congratulations. You are much better than me.
Many people have written and talked about bias and how it impacts our daily lives (Look up the Ted talks by Helen Turnbull or Verna Myers). It is everywhere around us and yet it is a completely uncomfortable subject for us to talk about. Why? I believe we are afraid of being labeled something like a bigot or racist by saying something wrong. Trust tends to foster discussion and acceptance while our internal fear leads us to shut down and shut out our own thoughts and opinions. Fear stops us from exploring our own thoughts to test them against other opposing views. Fear allows bias to continue to play a role in decision making. Isn't it better to just be quiet and go with the flow? Why should we stick our necks out to speak out against what we see as wrong only to be labeled something we are trying to stop?
Fear. Franklin Roosevelt knew it. We all know it but most of us are unable to overcome it. I am pretty sure that I am the most unqualified person to talk about bias and its impact. I am a middle aged white male. I grew up in the Midwest on a farm. I went to a private college where I played baseball and studied history and political science. I still have all of my hair and I have been blessed with good looks from my parents. I was taught to value hard work and, when combined with determination, anything is possible. And it is. For me.
I look back at all of the opportunities that have been presented to me. Some I took and some I didn't. Some opportunities were presented through circumstance and some through my own hard work and experience. However, I believe it was my hard work and determination that allowed me to be successful. I could remain blissfully unaware of anyone else's experience and tell them that with hard work and determination that can have what I have. I can choose to view the world through the lens of my own experience and see endless possibilities for everyone around me. I can choose to remain quiet and go with the flow and let others talk about how to deal with biases that I will never have to experience. I could do all of these things and yet I can't ignore the man behind the curtain once I have seen him.
It is interesting the way that life works and brings themes in and out of our lives. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is African American about (what else) but superheros. The conversation bounced around but landed for a short time on the ethnic background of certain heroes. Why is it so hard to see the Flash as an Asian and yet of course the Black Panther is black? And what about those names? Why can't he be named Lightning not Black Lightning? Why do we have to qualify the name if the person is anything other than white or a man? Or the conversation I had with another business counselor, Patti. We talk about the differences between men and women founders all the time. She tells me all the time that women think differently, in general, when facing obstacles. "We are taught from a very young age not to question. You men have ways been taught to question things. If we have a question then we have been taught that we should be asking for help rather than to figure it out ourselves." It frustrates her to no end that more women don't "grab themselves by the ovaries [her words]" and not take crap from anyone and figure out how to solve real problems with real businesses.
These conversations opened my eyes to just how truly blessed I have been to not deal with bias. It hit me. At worst, I have started from a neutral situation when presented an opportunity or obstacle. Building a successful business and/or career is really hard work. And yet, there are people that are doing it everyday while overcoming bias because of the color of their skin, gender, gender preference, sexual preference, and on and on. "No shit dumbass" I can hear you scream at me. Look, I inherently know this and none of this is new to me. But up to this point, I never really put myself into another person's shoes. I focused on myself and didn't venture out of my own little bubble of thought. I focused on working hard and was determined to be successful. Those were the same key items that I looked for when I built my teams and businesses. All of the rock star teams that I have been blessed to be a part of were diverse. I just didn't pay attention to that aspect of the team. I don't really care about the other stuff as long as you do what you say you are going to do. But just because I didn't care about their age, gender, preferences, etc didn't mean it was not an issue for them.
I realized just how biased and naive I am. I am biased because I view everything through the lens of my own experience. I was not trying to understand what the other person was going through. Typically, when I understand something a little deeper about myself, I get a release of exuberance and euphoria. This time I didn't. This time I was afraid. Fear took hold because I had peeked behind the curtain and didn't like what I saw and I felt powerless to change it. How can I fight bias? It is so much a part of who we are as humans that even in the scientific community whole classes and discussions and arguments are made around the bias of the observer or test.
I look at my daughter and wonder if she will get the same opportunities as me. Or my stepsons with a Hispanic last name. Will they have to overcome more than just hard work and determination? I told myself awhile ago that I would no longer let fear rule my life. So now I talk about it because that is the only way that I know how to change it. Call it out by its name. I have biases but I am not going to let that impact the relationships that hold so much possibility.
The answer to the riddle? The boy's mother. That riddle is so rich in cultural and social biases that it really hit me when no one in the family got the correct answer. Not my wife and not my daughter. Normally, I would've just moved on to the next riddle and would not have thought twice. This time though, we stopped and talked about it. I am not sure that we solved anything other than we are now aware of it. The subject now comes up from time to time and we stop and talk about it. And that is what matters. No matter how uncomfortable the subject. No matter how much fear you have of being judged. Stop and talk about it.