I called a big software company yesterday for support. I had just purchased a new subscription for software and could not figure out for the life of me how to set it up. So by the time I had a chance to speak with a real person I was frazzled and frustrated.
To make matters worse, the support person pronounced my name incorrectly so I promptly correctly him. He quickly apologized. I had a very difficult time understanding his accent as he tried to walk me through the steps to resolve my issue and get me started. I was having a hard time following his instructions. So as is natural, he started speaking louder as if I was hard of hearing. I said, you don’t have to raise your voice, I can hear you but I don’t understand you. As it turns out, he admitted that he was having trouble with my southern accent also. What?
I asked the young man where he was from and he replied, “the United Kingdom”. Then I asked again, “Where are you from originally?”. Shyly he responded, Ghana. The young man was from Ghana, a country in West Africa with a population of 25 million. His name was Emmanuel.
At that moment I was aware of our shared humanity. I call these moments “oh shit” awareness moments. I realized that we were both doing our best in a challenging situation. And in that moment, I was reminded of a Nigerian novelest, who has written an important piece about the danger of a single story. It is a Ted talk that is well worth your time: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en
I told Emmanuel about the wonderful novelist, Chimamanda Adichie who was very funny and bright. I suggested he listen to her talk. When I admitted that I was expressing my bias towards him, Emmanuel softened. He admitted that he was doing his best to help me. I told Emmanuel that I appreciated how patient he was being with me, and I was sorry that I had been difficult because I was so frustrated.
Chimamnanda translated means “God can never fail” and Emmanuel translated means “God with us”. I am blessed by an important lesson from 2 different people from 2 very different countries in Africa. What a lovely gift that I can take with me to consider how I express my bias and how I want to change.