I am always interested in people. Studying people and cultures fascinates me. This started in high school when I attended the Ethnic Studies class of Mr. Felix Gonzales who became my favorite teacher because I learned something that brought my imagination to faraway and ancient places. I wanted to investigate further by pursuing Journalism or Anthropology in college. Unfortunately, my entrance examination score did not qualify for the courses I wanted and this did not stop me from obtaining a Social Science degree in the national university.
I saw myself as someone who does not easily judge people for how they look. However, there are characteristics and notions I’ve formed about people of different class, gender, ethnicity, age and religion that influenced my cultural perception. I was like a horse wearing blinders with a limited view of the world around me. I had the tendency to evaluate other peoples’ cultures according to my own. Yes, I was ethnocentric.
Until the age of the internet came where I had the good opportunity to meet people of different cultures, many practicing a religion apart from what I grew up with, some with gender identities, expression and lifestyles I never knew was possible. Interacting with people from the different parts of the globe widened my perspective about the world we live in.
Knowing about the struggles and pains of my sisters at World Pulse heightens my anger about how our lives were similarly manipulated into subservience and marginalization by men and patriarchy. How government officials turned a deaf ear to gender-based violence. How businesses and big corporations exploited labor and the environment to generate more profit. How religions, kept women in subordinate positions. It is where, my implicit bias comes in.
I pause, breathe and realize that there are good men who support women empowerment. There are bureaucrats who are working hard to stop gender-based violence. There are socially responsible businesses and ethical corporations. There is a religion that espouses equality and members of patriarchal religions who believes in gender equality and women empowerment.
Recognizing the nuances among people help me check my biases. Yet, I cannot claim to be a totally unbiased person. Learning and unlearning is a continuing process. By reading books from Latin American, African, Indian, Middle Eastern and other foreign authors and developing meaningful friendships with people from different cultures help me subtly untangle the biases I’ve formed about persons whom I initially thought thinks differently from me.
Although, we come in different colors, sizes and shapes, we share the same dreams. We want to love and be loved. We want to contribute and be valued. We believe in the dignity of human person. We all want peace and denounce violence.
I am learning this by listening to the stories of my World Pulse sisters and putting myself in their big shoes. I am mighty proud of their creativity, eloquence and courage. Cognizant that I know little of the world around me, I proactively seek stories and encourage sisters from our community of 190 countries beyond my Encourager assignments. My interest in people has brought me to sixty (60) countries so far (without leaving my country :-)).
Now, if you are to ask me how I overcome bias in building relationships with people from different backgrounds or contexts than my own? I go from one ISLET to another. I get Interested. Study. Listen. Empathize and Treat people as my equal.