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What’s in a Hat? Confronting the Prejudice that We all Carry

“A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to the elements of our own personal lives.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

In the book quoted above, Taleb defines a Black Swan event as something that is very rare, which has an extreme impact, and that was clearly predictable but only in hindsight.

Over the past half-year we have experienced three Black Swan events: the global coronavirus pandemic, the resultant collapse of the global economy, and unprecedented global protest against racism and for social justice. And the three are interrelated – they reinforce one another as in an echo chamber.

Our world is changing and will continue to change in ways that cannot be foreseen. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic will forever change healthcare. Some of those changes will be positive, including the rapid acceptance of telehealth, heightened vigilance for infection prevention, and one hopes greater commitment to the care and protection of healthcare workers at every level of every organization.

As Taleb says in the quote above, Black Swans also have a significant impact upon our personal lives. Millions of people have been adversely affected by coronavirus, but even those not directly affected are more likely to pay much better attention to personal hygiene and sanitation.

Almost everyone has been impacted, mostly in a negative way, by the economic collapse, but for some, it has also been an opportunity to rethink how they do business or how they wish to pursue their careers. And hopefully it will induce more of us to be diligent in saving versus spending as we move forward.

I believe that the third Black Swan – the social protests we’re seeing in streets around the world – will have the greatest long-term impact. Social media has been flooded with messages talking about how the brutal killing of George Floyd has (or should have) caused a deep introspection about one’s own beliefs and prejudices. 

In our work with Values Coach clients I always say that culture does not change unless and until people change. That is also true of the culture of a society. The change begins with each of us individually.

The essential first step to confronting racism, discrimination, and inequality in our world is for us each to recognize the ways in which we personally judge others on the basis of superficial appearance. We all do it – it’s human nature, baked into our genes – so it requires constant inner awareness and a personal commitment to look beyond the name tag, beyond skin color, beyond superficialities, and to acknowledge the real human being we are seeing.

I recorded this short video several years ago but it has never been more relevant than it is right now today. Please take a few minutes to watch it and to honestly ask yourself whether you judge people based on the hat they wear, and the commitment you will make to look beyond the hat to the person wearing it.

Then please share it with others and challenge them to pay attention to how they might be judging others on the basis of superficial appearance rather than seeking to know the human they are judging by the hat they happen to be wearing.

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