People: Not as frightening as you might think

An outline of a gingerbread man/personI’m at the other end of the country this week, running a session on equality and diversity for the Clore Social Leadership Programme. When they sent me the list of attenders through, I nearly fell of my chair as I read – biog after biog of fantastic achievers – people who had started this, run that, gained the other and all of whom had already made immense differences to the lives of those around them.

Frankly, I was scared.

I set them an exercise last night – to take away a gingerbread person outline and fill it in. To write on the outside the stuff that people can see, or find out easily about you that helps define who you are – gender, age, families, colour, class perhaps. And then on the side the rest of the stuff that goes towards defining you – but the things you can’t see and that you don’t always share.

Its an exercise about stereotypes – how easy it is to define someone and make huge assumptions about them based on a single characteristic, without bothering to see them as complex human beings just like us.

Its also an exercise that improves communication. Understanding what makes us the way we are means we can be more tolerant of others – we don’t have to agree with others, but we are unlikely to learn much about them simply by screaming ‘you are wrong!’ at them. Finding out why people hold the beliefs they hold can be much more useful – especially if we feel those beliefs are damaging to others.

In being scared of people because of their CVs I am being human, but I am also making assumptions. Just because people have achieved things doesn’t mean they’re frightening. It means they’ll be extremely interesting and great fun to work with!

And of course they are.

So looking forwards to today as we delve into diversity, and talk about stereotypes, prejudice, equality and unconscious bias. As with every training session I run, I’ve become more interested in what I learn rather than what I teach, ad I reckon this group will have a huge amount to teach me!

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