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Beliefs and Biases

Updated: Jan 12

“The highest wrung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see.” Trevor Noah. “You can’t make a choice if you don’t have a choice.” Virginia Savuage. I heard both of these statements within an hour of each other in surprising contexts I started thinking about the implications for us as individuals, in communication, and for the population at large.

As individuals we often limit our choices through our beliefs and biases. We think our beliefs are true. We fail to notice how often they change, how they expand and evolve with our experience. For example, until 8 years ago, I was socially terrified, which limited who I would introduce myself to, who I could become friends with, and what experiences I would participate in.

In communication and relationships, our experiences and beliefs filter what we see the world and and how we see others. Conflicts often arise when people start with different facts and perceptions. Organizations value diverse teams and leaders with broad organizational and customer knowledge because this expands organizational possibility and understanding: needs, challenges, and opportunities are more readily seen.

Populations often have very different experiences which influence what wrung of the ladder they start on. My great-grandmother moved here in the early 1900’s as a young teenager, with six younger siblings, no money, and speaking no English. Two generations later, she was living the American dream with a thriving family business that supported everyone.

How? She was taught how to “fish” and was given a “fishing pole.” As a young Jewish woman, she had a community that taught her what was needed to thrive in the United States. She was given the fishing pole of resources: money, a place to live, the tools needed to get established.

Contrast that with the Mong, who immigrated here over last few decades. They have no native written language and are looking to thrive in the United States. Parents can’t read to their children, help them with school work, let alone help the newest immigrants to learn the same things my great-grandmother was able to learn. Same country, similar circumstances, vastly different opportunities.

I’ve known of implicit bias and have worked to counteract mine. I’ve read about challenges in the news and in school and yet, because I’ve had little interaction with different populations, my facts have been limited. I didn’t realize how limited until reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. He’s a compelling storyteller that intersperses so much history of Apartheid, experience with racism, poverty, and abuse, and humor, that it really opened my eyes in a very enjoyable way. No blame or guilt, just a level setting of facts and perceptions. I highly recommend it.


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