The recent increased focus on human rights and cultural diversity from unjust events, has had me reflecting on my own experience. When looking to understand or empathize with others, we search our past to connect with those directly affected, and what they’re going through.
When met with discrimination, we need strategies to keep our self-worth intact. By sharing my experience, I hope others will find value that can be added to their life in the face of adversity.
Discrimination comes in different forms, and exists when judgement is present. So when I looked to my past experiences, there was one, in particular, that stood out and still stirs my emotions.
In my early 20s, after achieving a college education in business, I managed two retail stationary stores. This valuable achievement, and I was living the upward climb to the corporate world. I was very proud and felt accomplished.
Although, there was this one morning, when an experience changed my perception of the world. A petite woman in her late 70s, came into the store and stood at the entrance looking around. I greeted her and she responded with, “I’d like to speak to the manager.”
Proudly, I told her I was the manager and asked how I could help her. She took a moment to look me up and down—from head to toe, and back again. As she looked beyond me, she requested to speak to a man. I was bewildered and somewhat offended. I was being ignored, dismissed and insulted by this little, old woman. Who was she to talk to me in this way? She made me feel like a five year old child being told that I wasn’t good enough.
After a moment I then directed her to the only man in the store, who was my assistant manager.
As my assistant manager tended to her, I went to the back room to gain my composure. About five minutes later he came back and told me that the purchase was for a forty-five cent, ballpoint pen.
I thought to myself, this little, old woman, of about 90 pounds, didn’t think that with a college education and running two retail locations, I was able to successfully help her find a basic pen?
The thoughts that ran through my mind were of frustration, and had me considering my own worth and ability. How is it that another woman would judge me in such a way? Especially when we’ve fought so hard to support women’s success, and be counted as a man’s equal.
I was furious at the thought that there were women out there that discredited other women. Those women who work hard to get a position at the table, and yet are held back by the opinions and judgements of other women.
The experience I had made me aware that the obstacles to climb the corporate ladder wasn’t men, as I assumed. What happened that day, I discovered, was that I was blind sided. I was naive to think that all women supported women. Yet here before me, was an example of one of our biggest challenges —the less obvious judgement and criticism of other women.
Shortly after that experience, my assistant manager showed his solidarity with me, and we spoke of the few that hold onto this negative stereotype. We joked about it, and then recognized the ones who do value our contribution and expertise. And there were many.
I showed compassion for the little, old woman who judged me, and think that maybe this is how her life was, and this is how she was treated by others when she was my age. Although, when I consider the times I was judged by women in recent years, I have to create different strategies in order to stay positive in light of their judgement.
We can’t control how people think or feel about us. They come with a certain set of beliefs about how the world is and how they feel they must respond to it. Which is often panic and fear because their beliefs are being challenged.
If we continue to get angry at others for their beliefs, we won’t make any progress. Although, if we choose to be compassionate and add value to a system that works toward positive change, then by example, we can support others in questioning the value of their beliefs and if they serve any benefit.
What we can control are the thoughts that we have of how we view ourselves. On that day, in the presence of that older women, I began to question my worth and ability, and that was the most frustrating part. I wasn’t supporting myself. And that’s what we have to do—trust and support ourselves, and secondly, those in our community in order to make a difference.