Monday, April 1, 2013

Check Personal Biases at the Door

My family and I just returned from a week's vacation in Japan where I was struck by the crowds of people, the beauty of the fully bloomed "sakura" (Cherry Blossom trees), and being a member of a very observable minority ethnicity (Caucasian).  As a mediator, I occasionally catch myself identifying with a particular participant (a woman lawyer, a mom, a person of my relative age or appearance, for example).  At those times, it's critical to keep my personal biases (whether positive or negative) firmly in "neutral" mode.  Sometimes, it takes some effort to do that.  My strategies include taking a little walk around the office, centering myself with a cup of tea or finding a quiet place to do some deep breathing and a few stretches.  I find that I am unable to "call myself out" without physically walking out and considering how my own personal biases may be affecting my mediation hearing and process.

     What I learned from this trip to such a faraway, foreign land is that people are, in many ways, more alike than different.  Because of the season, for example, there were many weddings and celebrations of young women--who enjoyed getting dressed up and celebrating with family members in Tokyo.  In Kyoto, there were many young people on Spring break, enjoying the fun of the night life, a good beer and an evening of Karaoke.  There were grandparents walking in the park with their grandchildren alongside the river.  There were women in business suits and men entertaining visitors in the restaurants and hotels.  In short, if you take a step back, you can usually find commonalities with nearly everyone--even if you expect otherwise based upon your preconceived biases. 

     Next time I catch myself leaning towards a particular viewpoint, I will remember the lessons from the Sakura season in Tokyo as I sip my tea and call myself on my own biases.