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Mind the Gap

What life experiences have led you to feel the way you do?

A fellow mediator posted the following discussion topic on his personal Facebook page yesterday:

"My observation, do you really think there is equal opportunity? It's a myth."

The comments to that simple question revealed a great deal about the commentators themselves.

For example, the first response was from a very fair skinned Caucasian woman from Texas whose Facebook page revealed that she's Christian, purportedly straight, middle class, and high school educated. I say "purportedly straight" because I would never vouch for anyone's sexuality other than my own, regardless of what any given person says and how they portray themselves.

Her comment was as follows:

"Perception is reality. I'm so proud my mom and dad didn't hand me a race or gender card when they told me I could do and be anything I wanted. You can, but... didn't happen. If you want to make it in this world, you will. If you don't, you'll make an excuse. My perception and my reality are that I have every opportunity everyone else has."

According to social science researcher Brene’ Brown, empathy is a skill set, the core of which is perspective taking. Along those lines, Brown says the following:

"Perspective taking is normally taught or modeled by parents. The more your perspective is in line with the dominant culture, the less you were probably taught about perspective taking. In the United States, the majority culture is white, Judeo-Christian, middle class, educated, and straight."

Considering Brown is referring to the "dominant cuture", the majority must fall within each of the categories listed. As such, by educated, Brown means those who have at a minimum graduated from high school.

As such, the woman who praised her parents for not handing her "a race or gender card" falls completely within the dominant culture. Keep in mind that gender is not a category considered by Brown for purposes of determining the dominant culture, likely because females statistically make up a higher percentage of the population.

Taking all of this information into account, along with her comment, what the woman actually revealed about her upbringing is that her parents taught her nothing about perspective taking, likely for the very reasons stated by Brown.

We can each speak to our respective life experiences. Her's are based upon her living in the United States and being a member of the dominant culture in each and every regard. She has no personal experience being a person of color, for example. In fact, she has no personal experience being a member outside of the dominant culture in any of the categories considered for purposes of defining the dominant cuture.

Some of us have personal knowlege as to how our experiences differ if our categorization were to change. This could be because, for whatever reasons, others miscategorize us, with or without our assistance. For example, people might assume that someone who is straight is gay or lesbian because they come across more feminine or masculine with regard to gender stereotypes. They might also assume that a gay or lesbian person is straight for exactly the same reason, because of how they portray themselves, or because they just assume that everyone is straight.

Based upon what I could tell from this particular woman's Facebook page; however, I very seriously doubt that she has ever been miscategorized in any of the aspects considered to assess whether or not someone falls within the dominant culture.

When you fall completely within the dominant culture, what life experiences have you had from which to contend that the opportunities available to you would have been equally available to you had you fallen outside of the dominant culture in one or more aspects?

Remember, dominant means that more people fall within the categorization. Do people tend to connect more with those to whom they have more in common or less? That's a rhetorical question because the research on the topic is very clear. As such, the more a person falls within the dominant culture within each and every aspect, the more in common they have with more people. If you are a member of the dominant culture because you fall into the majority in each and ever aspect considered, then you have more in common with the majority of people in such regards.

Might that cause more opportunities to be available to you? If so, what facts or personal experiences do you have to claim that the same is true of those who fall outside of one or more categorizations considered for membership within the dominant culture? Upon what basis do you claim that a person who falls outside of the dominant culture in each and every aspect has equal opportunities available to them?

If your answer is that they have more opportunities available to them as a result of affirmative action, I'd again ask what facts or personal experience do you have to make such a claim.

Black's Law Dictionary defines affirmative action as follows:

"When an employer must consider employing any race or minority that applies for a job."

Cornell School of Law defines affirmative action as follows:

"A set of procedures designed to eliminate unlawful discrimination between applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future. Applicants may be seeking admission to an educational program or looking for professional employment."

If you're a member of the dominant culture, what personal experiences have you had with regard to such discrimination? What personal experiences have you had with regard to people's perceptions of your abilities based upon their assumptions that you may have had certain opportunities available to you only because of affirmative action? Irrespective, if the same opportunities were available to those who fall outside of the dominant culture, leadership positions within corporate structures would reflect such, which they don't.

Affirmative action is a means of attempting to level the playing field, so to speak. Nobody and nothing is perfect, including policies designed to accomplish such a result. Is the answer that we shouldn't even attempt to level it? It also bears mentioning that it applies to "unlawful discrimination." What about those individuals who fall outside the dominant culture in categories for which discrimination is perfectly legal or might become legal in the future?

In any event, allow me to share my thoughts on other comments made in that Facebook discussion by other individuals who also appeared to fall within the dominant culture.

One said, "I think that we are only held back by our education, environment and limiting beliefs. As long as there are no physical or mental blocks, we can change those things."

Who is the "we" in we can change "our education, environment and limiting beliefs"? How is it equal opportunity if we each have different experiences in that regard?

Another stated, "Those who grab oppertunity will succeed. Those who don't will fail."

Don't some people have more opportunities to grab than others? As such, how is it equal opportunity if "those who grab opportunity will succeed. Those who don't will fail"?

Also, why is it binary - either you succeed or fail? I know plenty of people who aren't successful and aren't failures. I guess it depends upon a person's definition of success and whether they have a Viking-or-Victim worldview.

Another commented, "People need to create their own opportunities."

Don't some people have more opportunity to create their own opportunities than others, as well as the type of such opportunities?

Yet another said, "Good companies an executives don't care about race or gender, they care about the bottom line and employee happiness."

I'm not quite sure how "good" is defined in that comment because what's good is a matter of opinion.

Irrespective, while research bears out that companies are more successful when their employees are happy, the remaineder of that comment is inconsistent with every piece of research I've seen. Interestingly enough, it's inconsistent for the same reasons that led to my publishing this particular article - having a variety of perspectives is invaluable. In fact, all of the research and information I've read on the subject is consistent with the following statement by Scott Page, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies diversity in complex systems:

"What we think of as ‘science problems’ affect everyone — children, women, and men. What science decides to solve and for whom things are designed have a lot to do with who’s doing the scientific inquiry ... Amid growing signs that gender bias has affected research outcomes and damaged women’s health, there’s a new push to make science more relevant to them ... Analysts say that more women are needed in research to increase the range of inventions and breakthroughs that come from looking at problems differently than men typically do ... Involving more qualified women, as well as additional ‘social identities’ — gay people, African Americans and Latinos, those with physical disabilities, and others — can enrich the creativity and insight of research projects and increase the chances for true innovation."

Furthermore, the comment itself was binary in the sense that company executives either care about race or gender or about the bottom line and employee happiness. Why is it a binary choice? Why can't they consider all such things?

Meanwhile, another individual involved in the discussion said, "Opportunity maybe but everyone doesn't come to the table on equal footing."

Aren't some people excluded from even approaching the table itself or never being given opportunities that might have availed themselves for a seat at the table?

The final comment made in the discussion while I was still involved is as follows: "One reason there is not equal oppurtunity is because we are not created equal. Some smarter, some more athletic, some poor, some rich. We are born with an equal amount of only one thing. Integrity. Only we ourselves can diminish that. Its a shame some businesses have little or no integrity. To me thats what each of us should covet and protect most."

However, integrity is part of a person's character. In fact, the following is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Children's Health:

"A person's character continues to evolve throughout life, although much depends on inborn traits and early experiences. Character is also dependent on a person's moral development."

The perception that "perception is reality" is itself a perception. I'd recommend minding the empathy gap by gaining some perspective, which happens to be the core of empathy.