My “Single Story” of Bias

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.

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