Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Prejudice and Kindness

Posting here today and simultaneously over at The Kindness Project.

I imagine that if you find yourself reading this post you consider yourself to firmly fit in the "not prejudiced" category.

Of course you do!

It's not called The Jerk Project, after all.  :0)

But what if prejudice in real life is not always about being overtly jerky (or racist, sexist, or another offensive --ist) ... but instead about choosing to be not as kind to some people as to others

I heard this fascinating story about Harvard Psychologist Mahzarin Banaji on NPR during my commute two weeks ago. She co-wrote a book with Anthony Greenwald called Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People.

In the story, Banaji tells the story of a former colleague at Yale who was an avid quilter. The woman sliced her hand open while washing a large glass bowl one day and rushed to the hospital. Once she checked into the ER she told the doctor on duty that as a lifelong quilter she wanted to ensure full movement in her hand. The doctor said, "Yes, yes, of course," and then proceeded to stitch her up.

Then a student working at the hospital recognized her and said hello. When the doctor realized she was a Yale professor he called in the best hand surgeon in the region, a medical team worked for hours, and tried to "save practically every last nerve" in her hand (Vedantam). Her ability to quilt was saved.

It wasn't that the ER doctor despised quilters... it was that something about her holding the title of Yale professor made him want to give her the absolute best.

If you're into kindness then you're not likely to be mean to the people you encounter each day.

But what if that's not really how prejudice rears its ugly head?

What if we go the extra mile for some people-- and we simply don't for others.

Hearing this story has made me examine when I do and don't "go the extra mile"and also made me question why I choose not to on occasion.

It also reminds me to a humorous version of this from 30 Rock, when Liz Lemon's doctor boyfriend (the adorable and hilarious Jon Hamm) lives in "the bubble" where people treat him better simply because he is terribly handsome.

What do you think? Do you think this is an accurate depiction of the way our world works?

Isn't Jon Hamm mighty handsome?


  1. I think you're spot-on here, Kat. Our society is tuned to paying attention to the beautiful people. Or the well-connected. What an interesting story about that quilter and the doctor. We've probably all done things like that.

    Working in retail for ten years made me realize how badly some people treat store clerks. Most of my customers, of course, were wonderful people who got to know me and realized I'm college-educated, have a fairly high IQ and know quite a bit about children's books. :) But there were still some customers who ignored my offer of help and talked to each other in front of me about kids' books as if I was deaf or mentally challenged and couldn't possibly know as much as they did!

  2. Interesting, Joanne-- I think many people in our society treat anyone in a service/retail industry as invisible. Astounding that they wouldn't realize a book seller knows a lot about books!
    Hearing this story has certainly made me more conscious of when I don't go the extra mile for someone and why.

  3. #1. Love the new blog header.

    #2. This is such as astute point: "What if we go the extra mile for some people-- and we simply don't for others."

    #3. Love that 30 Rock episode where Liz keeps saying he looks like a Disney prince.

    #4. Is this how the world works? You know what . . . I think it probably does. :(

    1. Thanks, Nina, on all counts. I can't get enough of Liz Lemon. :0) And I agree, the world does work this way... but hopefully knowing that is the first step to changing it.


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