“Those RICH JEWS enjoy their dinner in their mansion while WE DIRTY buggers get to eat here” said the guy across the table, as if it were an axiom. I have never shared this story before, but I think now is the right time.
At the time this happened, I was an engineer on my first FIFO to a BHP site, commissioning a brownfield upgrade to the Nickel West processing plan in Mt Keith, WA, Australia. I’ve been to the site long enough to know lots of people and across the table sat one of the BHP operation guys who was assigned to support the project. This night, after a long day on site, at 6:30 pm I felt tired and hungry, but suddenly that sentence echoed in my ears.
I raised my eyes and looked directly at the other guy and said to him:
“I’m just as dirty as you are”
Back in the days, when I was a student at Uni, we learned that an Axiom was an unprovable rule of first principle accepted as TRUE because it was self-evident. What clearly happened at our dinner was the result of stereotyping jewish people.
Before I continue, let’s take a deep look at the intrinsic meaning of “Subject Pronouns” for a second.
“I”: It’s refering to one person, just me.
“WE”: is everyone we associate with. It can be family, friends, colleagues or even based on race, religion, community, where we live, etc.
“YOU”: is everyone WE liaise directly, but are not part of the WE group.
“THEY”: includes all other groups which are not WE or YOU.
I could have done several things such as pick a fight, start an argument, rip the diversity and inclusion policy off the wall and push it in his face or simply report him to management. If I took any of these actions, it would have positioned me as a “YOU” or “THEY” and would just have made him build more HATE. Hate is simple, cheap and easy to generate, no point in fuelling it.
Despite that, I could react differently, but I just replied with: “I’m just as dirty as you are”.
He looked at me and I could recognize in his face that he suddenly understood that there was a tired, dirty bugger working on the same site, same project and eating in the same place as he was, who was Jewish. There was no other choice moving forward WE were… well… WE and that Axiom was shuttered.
It was silent after that. We went back to eat dinner and a few minutes later the conversation picked up again on the regular topics we would normally discuss over dinner. I never looked back on it.
Unfortunately, biased opinion is here to stay unless WE do something about it. As leaders, we have the power and the responsibility to change it.
We can remove biased opinions in the workplace by creating opportunities to collaborate with colleagues which would not be organically created. It May seem complicated, but in fact It’s pretty simple, once people deliver something together, THEY will move into the WE group.