In the recent months, we have referred to the novel Coronavirus as a villain of sorts, one that is conscious and diabolically plotting the destruction of human life. This villain’s form is a virus, that infects one human body at a time, while turning its latest victim into a host enabling it to spread more efficiently and grow exponentially. This villain has shown resilience in the face of medical treatments and vaccines previously known to humans. World domination appears to be its mission, invading humans in every continent, country and city.
We have superheroes who are brave enough to fight this villain. Front-line health care workers, most government leaders and physical distancing practices. We hope that there are more superheroes coming soon, including efficient and effective contact tracing and the development of a vaccine.
At the hands of this villain, there has no doubt been destruction of our economy, of our lifestyles and most of our short term plans, including graduation celebrations and summer vacations. The destruction has been greater for some over others though. Many have seen the destruction of their income, or worse, the premature death of loved ones.
Discrimination is another villain that has been destroying our society.
Unlike the Coronavirus, this villain is not novel and has been present for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Similar to the Coronavirus though, it is not visible to the naked eye but clearly seen through the path of destruction that it leaves behind. We may not always know where it is but can see where it has been.
Discrimination is a complex villain that attacks in many ways. Discrimination based on race, gender or religion are well known and increasingly visible to many. There is also discrimination based on age, appearance and ability, which may be less visible but still destructive.
Discrimination also needs a human host to spread, like the Coronavirus. It is an infection that we catch from other people. It is through the influence of parents, teachers, religion, leaders, corporations, marketers and more that we become infected with discrimination. We are not born with the ability or understanding of how to discriminate. It is an undesirable skill, one that we have learned and one that we, unfortunately, teach others.
This villain has a form that we are well aware of. This form is what we read often about in the headlines and in this moment, countless stories from recent months and years are heard more loudly. It has clearly infected the systems that educate, fund and govern our society.
This villain has a more viscous and destructive form though. Unconscious discrimination is a form travels beneath our awareness. Unconscious discrimination has become systemic in each of us. We are all infected.
Unconscious discrimination exists in the subtlest of forms, that more often than not, evade our consciousness. The judgments that we place on others with incomplete or incorrect information.
There are countless opportunities for me to practice unconscious discrimination.
When I choose where I sit on public transit.
When I scan through resumes of candidates.
When I swipe through profiles on a dating app.
When I choose who to donate to.
When I vote for a political candidate.
When I scroll through a feed.
In simple terms, discrimination has come to mean when someone is treated unfairly or differently based on their race, gender, religion, age, appearance, abilities or other factors. Discrimination, especially in an unconscious form, is an undesirable skill.
Discernment, on the other hand, is a desirable skill. In simple terms, it is the ability to judge well. It involves paying attention to the finer details of something before placing judgement. In the examples above, my evolution is to bring conscious discernment to the situations where I otherwise could bring unconscious discrimination.
I do not remember taking a course in grade school about discrimination, reading a book about how discrimination infects society and how it infects me, or hearing business leaders speak about discrimination in their organizations.
Teachers can be our bridge from discrimination to discernment.
We can choose to see everyone as a teacher. The school, the workplace, the church and the stage may be the formal places where we see teachers. The home, the social feed, the garden and the meditation are the informal places, each with their own teachers, that likely have even more influence on us.
To apply the skill of discernment to picking a piece of fruit or buying a piece of furniture is relatively easy. To apply the skill of discernment as it relates to the treatment of other human beings is not as easy. It requires empathy.
The destruction from discrimination has led to a response of sympathy from many of us. “I see your pain and suffering”, as a doctor would say to a patient or a lawyer to a client.
The destruction of discrimination requires a response of empathy from all of us. “I feel your pain and suffering”, as a good friend would say.
Discrimination is so widespread that it has infected each of us. This moment has become a spotlight, through peaceful protest, to bring attention to this humbling truth.
The irony in my reflection of comparing the Coronavirus to discrimination, both villains and both infections, is that the latter may be the more dangerous one. Discrimination has not only infected our systems and each of us, but it has also infected the Coronavirus. The Coronavirus has disproportionately discriminated against certain populations, more so than others.
In each moment, we must ask ourselves if we are helping the virus of discrimination spread.
In this moment, we are being asked to help bring destruction to discrimination.
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