Blind Spots – Learning to Let Go

by | Jun 25, 2020 | Professional Growth

“Sometimes, I feel I am really blessed to be blind because I probably would not last a minute if I were able to see things.”

—Stevie Wonder

As our country struggles with understanding and responding to injustice, to live well as brothers and sisters, we can learn from the innocence of children.

One day a little child was playing with a valuable vase. He put his hand into it and could not take it out. His father said, “Now, my son, open your hand and hold your fingers out straight and then pull.”

His son surprised his father by saying, “Oh no, Daddy! I couldn’t pull my fingers out like that because if I did, I would drop my penny.”

Sometimes we hold on tight to what we think is important. Our pennies are what we believe to be true. We rely on these beliefs to make sense of the world, and sometimes they make no sense.

Our blind spots.

Today we are at a turning point when it comes to racial injustice. While race is at the center of our conversations, the impact goes further – gender, age, sexual orientation, and the list goes on. These biases affect how we see the world, our behavior, and how we lead.

As leaders, how can we better understand these biases and come up with ways to include all voices in our discussions?

If you are not convinced that you possess some implicit bias, here is another story. A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son, severely injured, is rushed to the hospital. In the operating room, the surgeon looks at the boy and says “I can’t operate on this boy. He is my son.”

How is this possible?

Implicit bias. Most of us automatically associate the surgeon as being male. In the story there are seven male words and no female words.

We are surrounded by these perceptions every day. However, we do not simply learn from our experiences – we learn when we reflect on our experiences. Now is a great time to pause and reflect.

The people in your life, and those at work who look up to you, are talking about this. How can we effectively lead?

Three keys to leading through our blind spots:

Your Blind Spots

We all aspire to be good people. The reality is that there are hidden biases in all good people. To understand our blind spots we need both resources and other people to tell us the truth. Blind Spot by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald is an excellent resource. Another option is to take an implicit bias test, such as Race IAT. I did and the results surprised me. My self-image of always treating everyone equally is a myth, and now I can reframe my attention through greater clarity.

Harvard Race IAT
Follow the instructions, consent form, and select Race IAT

Common Language
In her book White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo helped me better understand words I thought I already knew. She also helped me realize that the words I have used my whole life are not in fact accurate.
• Prejudice is prejudgment. We all have it – it is part of what makes us human.
• Discrimination is acting on your prejudice.
• Racism is systemic not individual.
The powerful lesson for me was understanding prejudice and understanding how I see others, resisting the impulse to act on my biases, and stop referring to individuals as racists. The individual challenges are within my control. Changing our institutions is a bigger role, and I can play a part.

Similarities v. Differences

Owning our biases and speaking a common language will enable us to better understand how we share much more in common than we realize. We need to refocus on our common ground. We can make this a better place to live if we come together, as imperfect as we are, and unite through our similarities. Our children will see and experience the progress.

Perfect vision is 20/20 and the irony is that this year 2020 has revealed our blindness.

While there are challenges, there is hope and solidarity if we seize the moment. How will you step up to better understand how you see the world, and lead others to a better tomorrow? Open your eyes and let go.
I want to hear from you. Let me know how the conversation these past weeks has challenged your worldview, and what challenges you face to become a better leader.

All My Best,