A few days ago, I went to the hardware store in search of four M4X16 screws. While I needed expert assistance, none was available. Another shopper – a white man – was searching through a neighboring rack of fasteners. His sleeveless shirt and shorts revealed heavily tattooed arms, shoulders, neck and legs. His long, unkempt hair was knotted. His mask was a dirty-looking American flag bandana. My internal, stereotypes reflexively kicked in. I noticed the thought, “He seems unfriendly, maybe even foe.”
I caught myself and said, “Challenge your assumption, Teressa. Talk to him.” So, I did. He was kind and helpful. We laughed together about the difficulty of our task. We shared how inept we feel in situations where we lack expertise. We connected human to human, enjoyed the exchange and wished each other a good day as we parted.
To heal our workplaces and our world, this is the work we all must do: notice our assumptions about others and actively challenge them.