This post is about an interaction I had with my Mother over the holiday. I was at my Mom’s with my wife and kids to celebrate the holidays. She had asked me how my book was selling so I started telling her and gave her a promotional bookmark. She leans in towards me and whispers “Do you only work with gay people?” I responded by asking her what the point of whispering was since it’s just the 5 of us in her living room? I’m a pretty direct person so she didn’t flinch at my point blank asking her what was up with the whisper. She said “I have no idea why I just did that.”
Anytime I am bringing you a scenario that has happened in my life I try and do research to get to the bottom of why things happen the way that they do. In this case trying to do a Google search around whispering gay people, doesn’t yield much. I did have a chance to talk it through with some colleagues for their thoughts on the matter. In this case, as with most, my Mom meant no harm what-so-ever. Most people don’t. She actually was telling us that she was explaining to her friends at work that she thinks our marriage is so strong because we are both sensitive to each others needs as women.
When we dissected the scenario we were able to deduce that whispering a phrase about “gay people” or any other disenfranchised group has a lot to do with someone’s generation. My Mom is a baby boomer and as such she grew up in a very different time than we live in today. It doesn’t seem all that uncommon for someone of an older generation to feel the need to hush their tone about something that may have been once considered taboo. The fact that she was just sharing details about why she thinks I have a successful (same-sex) marriage with her coworkers shows a great deal about her comfort level. So her whispering “gay people” is out of her character because she’s not afraid to talk about us to friends, family and colleagues. It shows that this whispering was something innate and perhaps something as a result of her generation. In any case no harm was meant by it and frankly she didn’t even realize she did it until I called her out on it.
So as with all of my blog posts my aim is to educate you on how to best respond to an unfamiliar scenario. This time I’d like to draw your attention to unconscious bias you may be exhibiting. It is quite possible you may have done something like this in a meeting before and not even know it. If you were to do it I think most people would a) either not pick up on it or b) pick up on it but not confront you about it. It is a very interesting phenomenon that I may be just as guilty of doing in the past as well. Now that I’ve brought this to your attention, pay attention to how this comes up in conversation. If you catch someone else doing it, perhaps use it as an opportunity to educate. Or, at the very least make note of how it makes you feel. Then put the shoe on the other foot and think how you may be making others feel if you are guilty of having done it as well.