Diversity and the barking dog...
“People are all the same- only different!” It is not known who said it first, but many have repeated it. Individuals are born into this world with little knowledge of what differences are; however, an understanding can be learned through experience. A peek inside an office in any progressive corporation might surprise those only familiar with traditional organizations. They look more like an open box of assorted Crayolas than a twenty pack of unsharpened number 2’s. Not only is there a diverse range of colors, there are also many other differences not so easily identified. Although age, gender, able-bodiedness, and ethnicity are more easily identified, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status require some careful discovery. Why then, have these differences created such space between so many individuals?
Unlike animals, human beings have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror. After watching many dogs bark at themselves in mirrors, it is apparent that they lack the ability to comprehend their own reflections. Humans understand their mirrored image and are capable of identifying others who possess similar characteristics. Mirrors therefore, are responsible for first introducing people to bias by helping them establish their own identities, ones they will later use in making comparisons. Human beings who have seen their reflections, understand their own characteristics, and have become comfortable with them, begin looking for similar features in others in an attempt obtain a certain level of comfort in the social environment.
Socialization means getting used to environmental elements through continued exposure. The more familiar people are with someone or something, the less fearful and the more socialized they become. When they lack exposure and do not find any obvious similarities they can become fearful- not too unlike the dog that barks at his own, unfamiliar image. As more experience is gained these judgments become easier to make, though in dogs their roots appear to be at least in part, hereditary in nature.
Characteristics such as age, gender, sexual orientation, and religion all impact the way in which people react to one another. Individuals react to these factors similar to the way they react first to reflections in a mirror and later to the similar characteristics they find in others. Individuals able to identify similar characteristics in others are more likely to be accepting; conversely, unfamiliar characteristics can be responsible for creating distance and in some cases, even hostile responses.
While assessing individuals, an effort is made to place them into a familiar category in order to obtain a comfort level. Once in a category, this process helps determine whether or not to accept an individual. The “halo effect” takes place when one characteristic is enough to place an individual into a specific category even when there are several other characteristics that actually make up an individual’s complete personality. In many instances one characteristic can be enough to create an overall positive impression, while on the other hand, one unfamiliar personality trait can also be enough to create a fearful response, and the “barking dog syndrome” can result.
Dogs, because their experience is very different from the human one, rely heavily on smell to make their initial judgments; it is a well-known fact that they are color-blind. It is not uncommon for a dog to sniff around in order to obtain a comfort level; it is their most informative and dominant sense. They use their sense of smell more than humans, and some believe their ability to judge is rarely influenced by other lesser characteristics and traits.
In the canine kingdom, gender, age, religion, socioeconomic status, and skill have nothing to do with the value system. Dogs simplify their judgment process by not allowing these factors to dictate their behaviors towards others. Human beings on the other hand, include these factors on the list of characteristics and use them to assist them in judging others. The process, though a bit more lengthy and intense, may in fact distort the results and further complicate judgment.
Once a negative characteristic is discovered, especially one that has created problems in the past, behavior can immediately shift to a predisposed response. They say, “elephants never forget”, but in reality a good portion of all behavior is a result of an earlier experience.
If a man grew up in a house where work was divided up according to gender, he may always consider certain domestic chores to be “women’s work”. Women from the same household may have certain perspectives on what they may consider to be “a man’s job”. Sons and daughters of active parents may not agree with age discrimination, having seen how their own parents remained productive and creative throughout their entire lives. Children growing up in diverse neighborhoods where race and religion were not considered obstacles are more likely to develop productive relationships with people of all denominations, and may choose a husband or wife without racial bias. Exposure to homosexual men and women may reduce anxiety and an individual with this experience may be more accepting of people of a different sexual orientation than themselves. In contrast, individuals growing up in a house full of racial slurs and gender bias may continue to discriminate without realizing that the behavior is no longer acceptable or tolerated.
It appears early in the lifespan that self-discovery plays a vital role in establishing responses to similarities and differences. Behavior is cued directly by how familiar certain characteristics are to an individual. Experience and exposure seem to increase the chance diversity will be looked upon favorably.
The dog in the mirror is no more familiar than the one in the window, and since it has no smell, cannot be categorized, the only response is one filled with hostility.
We can learn a great deal from a barking dog…