“I know more than I say, think more than I speak and know more than you realize, so don’t underestimate me.”
So the other day I was traveling from Vegas back to the Bay Area. I called for an Uber like normal and waited the few minutes it typically takes for the driver to arrive. Upon his arrival, the driver pulled up and I waited for him (it was a man) to open the trunk of his car. He did not get out of his vehicle and I asked if the trunk was opened. He acknowledged that it was open, and immediately I coped an attitude with him for what I thought was poor customer service. As I entered the vehicle, I thought about my brief yet fairly consistent experiences with Uber drivers. They have all (including female drivers) gotten out of their vehicle, pop the trunk and assisted me with my luggage, whether I require the help or not, but not this guy.
I have come to appreciate and expect this type of service, so my bad attitude stemmed from the lack of that normal experience. As we began our trek to the airport I thought to myself, “You are getting 1 star Mr. Uber driver”, but once I was inside the car for a few minutes my attitude began to quell and I asked my driver (whom I will call John to protect his privacy) common questions amongst strangers or better yet Uber and rider.
After a few moments in the car with John I quickly learned that he had been an Uber driver for only three weeks, served in the military in 1944 and quickly asked me to guess his age. I was thinking seventy-ish, but I was off by twenty years. So this guy (John) was a ninety year old man driving Uber as a supplement to his social security. He certainly did not look his age. He was quite alert, witty and even worked as an illegal gambling runner in his recent past prior to Uber.
After a few moments of talking to John I quickly realized he did not get out of the car to retrieve my luggage because he was too old to pick it up, and probably thought, “You’re a man, get it yourself.” I could not be mad at that quite honestly, but my first thoughts were, “how rude.” By the time I arrived at the airport we were chatting it up about life events and as I was getting out of his car to retrieve my luggage, John reached out with his fist and gave me the pound and said have a nice day. I smiled and wished him the same sentiments.
I learned an interesting lesson last week from meeting John. Not only is it wrong to prejudge people, (which we are all aware of) but it can actually become a hinderance to our ability to acquire knowledge, gain useful insight about people and how their stories connect the dots to the overall human experience.
So I get that everyone has their biases and they can stem from something as simple as ignorance to a complex learned behavior over time. The unfortunate thing is many of us will die with these biases and never really get to know the person or people for who they truly are. I find this very troubling especially in this day and age where division has become so prevalent in almost every aspect of our lives.
My purpose with this post is not to speak on racism necessarily, but more so the human experience. And although my human experience has been tied to many forms of racism, I still have a greater purpose with writing today.
A few weeks back I had the privilege to sit in a conference with “Emotional Intelligence” being the topic of discussion. As the facilitator dived deep into the subject matter, he also broached on the topic of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. Being the only black man in the class I decided to take a risk and touch on the whole race topic, but from a different angle.
I talked about how easy and comfortable it is for us all to remain in our safe zones, with our same set of friends and communities than it is to branch out into new territory, and although there are many that choose this route due to hatred, there are still many more (in my opinion) that are simply not comfortable with change or connecting with the ideas and people who do not fit in their definition of normal. Unfortunately even with the best intentions, the lack of movement towards breaking this cycle results in the same conclusions we see so prevalent today. A people divided and many without true knowledge of the cause or the why.
Like every other human being I have my own set of biases. In most cases they lie dormant for years or decades until a particular scenario arises that thrust it right to the surface of my circumstance. It is in those moments that I have a choice to make. Will I allow my uneasiness and ignorance shut me out of any opportunity to learn a new thing, or will I allow my heart and mind to open and hear or experience something different, something new?
It may seem that I am oversimplifying this, because if it were that easy the world would already be a better place right? Well change is never easy and for whatever reason the path of least resistance tends to fall in line with what is not always good for us. This is true in relationships, diets, learning, etc. Just a fact that real change requires real work and if we decide to remain in our safe zones (which always feels better), we equally become a part of that thing which hinders authentic connection within our communities and critical diversity within our places of work.
And although I may never see John ever again in my life, I will certainly meet many more like him. My experience with him shed some light and made me aware of my own prejudices, but thankfully I chose not to stay in that place. I reached out and experienced something positive that I will carry and pass like a baton in a track meet.
If you are reading this, the baton is now in your hands. What will you do with it? Will you allow your fear or discomfort to paralyze you or will you reach out to your fellow-man or woman and connect with the human experience? We really are not that different, however what does make us different is what makes us beautiful and worthy of sharing our own story. We just need to recognize that and listen, like I did on my Uber ride.
For you John ***** (Five Stars) and a pound. Thanks for the lesson!