Wednesday, June 4, 2014

“Tribal” Policies Unintentionally Discriminate

How many identities do you see?
We live in a world of tribes. Everybody belongs to at least one. Most of us hold membership in several, intended or unintended. These tribes are woven into the very fabric of our society. Each has specific requirements and most aren’t written in any book. Members just know them. That can be a good thing because it can strengthen unity and forge trust. It also can lead to less than desirable conditions if unchecked.

Some tribes are obvious because they possess visual signifiers. That is, you can immediately see their identity. Uniforms and special clothing are hallmarks. Easily recognizable tribes include: armed forces personnel (Army, Navy), fans of specific sports teams (MSU Spartans, Detroit Tigers), and express mail delivery staff (UPS, Fed Ex).

Other tribes can be identified visually but may require closer inspection, verbal cues or actions. These might include senior business executives, factory workers, country club members, or the homeless.

Kool and the gang.
The interesting thing is that most of these bands consider their groups open and inclusive. But typically there’s an unspoken caveat: “you can join as long as you fit in.”

Tribes tend to communicate in specific ways. In order to be a member, you have to know the language. If you don’t, you’re going to have a hard time – and may be denied many of the privileges granted within that tribe.

What’s more, you have to understand and appreciate cultural nuances. You must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Even then you still may have a problem. Or they may have a problem with you.

A sobering fact is that just because you want to join a tribe doesn’t mean it wants you. There usually are other conditions; some cut and dry (ex., be a resident of a place), others less so (ex., the right experience). Some requirements can be learned or developed, others are simply impossible to attain. Things like looking a certain way physically, beyond clothing and attire. Or ways of being such that if you’re are born with it, you’re in. If not well, you might still get in, but it will be made to feel second class.

Too tall, too short; too light, too dark; too small, too large; too straight, too gay; disabled, nondisabled; rich, poor. The dichotomies seem endless, and can play out in ways that usually don’t result in your favor.

Bad apple, or simply trying to fit in?
“Then don’t join,” many might suggest. Yet sometimes in order to get ahead, you have to join a tribe of which you have little understanding or apparent resemblance. What inevitably happens though is that you fail. Or flounder.

Generally, three reasons contribute to this: one, you can’t or won’t participate in the culture (ex., drinks after work) of the tribe. Two, you don't know the rules of the tribe (i.e., interpersonal politics) and no one shares with you what those rules are. The third is prejudice.

That brings us to how tribal membership can create difficult conditions for those they believe do not belong. Another way to put it: exclusion. This typically manifests when a specific group is so dominant in numbers that nonmembers find themselves being oppressed.

A particularly disconcerting aspect of this dynamic is when the dominant group can’t even recognize that its ‘membership’ requirements and behaviors are damaging. They also serve as barriers to success, whether consciously or unconsciously addressed.

In the end, dominant cultures would do well to remain vigilant against unintended discrimination that’s based on qualities that are ultimately irrelevant. Such watchfulness can help ensure equality for all.

Spring Brings Out the Best and Worst in Us

At last, it’s spring. The calendar said it arrived way back in March but much of the Midwest didn’t get the memo. After a long two months of see-sawing cold to warm then cold again, winter’s last vestiges finally seems to have waned. Only potholes remain.

The frigid Polar Vortex of 2014 is now a memory. In its place are leaves that have erupted from the branches of formerly dormant trees. Plants have sprouted, grass is green and weeds are growing. Photosynthesis is in full effect.

Now that winter has passed, many of us will soon be plagued with warm weather issues. At the top of the list is the arduous ritual known as spring cleaning. In addition, inside and out, critters will be on the rampage. Some already are.

Moles turn lawns into underground highways, woodchucks burrow in inconvenient places (like beneath the house) and pesky ants terrorize household interiors. Then there are flies. And don’t get me started on the subject of mosquitoes. Same pests, different year.

There’s another kind of vermin, one of a two-legged kind. Some say inhuman; others, inhumane. That’s because the problems they bring can be quite disturbing, in terms of the drama and trauma they cause. Though they can certainly be found in and around households, like other springtime pests, they are typically found in public spaces.

Warm weather brings with it increased outdoor play activities. Already, SUVs can be seen tooling around, engaged in the annual ritual of lugging road and trail bikes to recreation destinations. Increasingly, with each passing Saturday and especially in the morning, we’re also seeing more and more soccer moms and dads driving minivans packed with kids and sports gear. Sometimes they’re also carrying a major problem.

On the field is where it occurs. More specifically on sidelines during Little League or soccer games. That’s when we witness the annual misbehavior of certain parents engaged in unsportsmanlike conduct, supposedly on behalf of their kids. And it can get downright ugly. It’s sad but true: some moms and dads get way too emotional during their children’s games.

A small minority cause a majority of the mayhem. Some of them are regulars. They seem to come from all walks of life and bring with them an irrational fervor that belies the nature of the youthful competition occurring on the field. However, some are professionals, it seems.

Take former Major League Baseball pro, Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. Being a fan of the game, I had come to know Wild Thing for the sometime lack of control of his pitches on the mound. Now it seems Williams’ nickname stands for something more nefarious, such as misconduct at his 10-year-old kid’s baseball game.

According to media reports, the 49-year-old was coaching his son’s team and was ejected after arguing with the umpire and disrupting the game for 10 minutes.

That Williams was reinstated when it was determined the umpire had also behaved inappropriately is beside the point. An ex-MLB player should have behaved better, especially in front of children. The same is true of the umpire, whatever his role was in contributing to the incident.

The point of the matter is that there are bigger emotional fish to fry than engaging in a knock-down-drag out over whether a kid is safe or out. How about making sure youth are actually enjoying themselves even as they compete? How about exhibiting higher standards of maturity when things don’t go your way?

As spring moves toward summer, let’s all try and model good behavior and respect for each other. Do it for our kids. Do it for each other.