Monday, September 23, 2013

Unknown to Me

fog in the mountains

This morning I was thinking about a revelation I had a few days ago. No, the heavens didn't open, and I didn't hear a voice thunder from the clouds.  But I did have a revelation, and I learned something about myself that I never knew before.

When I was teaching courses in Interpersonal Communication, I used to use a tool for enhancing self-understanding and self-disclosure known as the "Johari Window." The window could be divided up into various segments. In one section you could write down some things about your self that you were willing to reveal to others, in another section, you could write about those things that you kept hidden from others. 

This self-disclosure tool also encouraged reflection on things about yourself that are unknown- not things you keep hidden from others; rather, things about yourself of which you aren't even aware. 

The other day I had a revelation- and some unknown things about myself came to light.

Several years ago I had an ongoing debate with a colleague who was an African-American. We were (and still remain) very good friends, but we disagreed on one major point. I never thought of myself as racist in any way. I have always considered myself to be totally respectful of the differences in others- without prejudice. My colleague would always challenge me on that perception.

She would tell me: "It is impossible for you to be totally without prejudice. You are a White, educated,  privileged male, and whether you realize it or not, those factors will always cloud how you look at others." 

I have finally come to understand what this colleague of mine meant, and I have also now come to agree with her. 

For the past few weeks we have been doing some renovation work at our home. An old bathroom has been remodeled - the shower rebuilt. The guys who did the remodeling were big, bulky, Latino men who spoke highly-accented English. 

When the work first began I didn't think much of what was involved. They would just come in, lay some tile, change out some fixtures and we'd be done. I thought I might even be able to do it myself if I had the time or if someone could teach me what to do. 

It took about two weeks for the work to be finished and during that time I realized that the men who were remodeling our bathroom were not "grunt laborers" (as I had previously judged) but they were, in fact, mathematicians and artists. The blend of various shapes and colors they helped us choose as they worked with us was a work of art. The intricacies of tile design was a work of art. In order to tile a shower wall you need to meticulously apply geometrical principles so that everything fits together. 

I was amazed and awed to watch them work with such care, precision, and aesthetic sense. 

It all turned out beautifully thanks to the trained artisans and mathematicians who put it all together - and herein was my revelation.

When these guys first showed up at my house, I saw them through some very clouded and even racist filters. They were big, bulky, Latino men, hardly able to speak English, who drove an old white van filled with tools and supplies. Through my clouded "white, educated, privileged male" filters, I saw them as "workers" - "grunt laborers," but in fact they were "accomplished and trained artisans" with skills and sensibilities that far exceeded what I would be able to do.  

My encounter of the past days has taught me an important lesson. I will always see the world through the filters of my experience, training and background, but I think my revelation has taught me to be less quick to judge. 

I am very grateful for those astute artisans and mathematicians who spent some time with us over the past weeks. They have helped me to take one more step toward practicing what I preach - "respect the dignity of every human being."  


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