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Shifting culture towards equality

Shifting society towards equality

Munich Germany
Photo by Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images

In many college social science classrooms students learn about Johari's window. Johari's window teaches that within each individual there are four possible ways of knowing/understanding at any given moment, two of which include not knowing or understanding.

Each person has areas where they are blind to something about themselves that is visible to other people. Take, for example, alcoholics who have been identified by family members but do not see a problem themselves. A boss/mentor may recognize skills in an employee that the employee has not recognized in themselves.

The beauty of Johari's window is that the content can change at any given time, demonstrating the possibility of change and transformation for each individual.

Johari's window can also apply to cultures. For example, when Americans travel to other countries they may be surprised to find that the people there talk about characteristics of American culture, for better and for worse. As an individual and as a culture, defenses can arise when an outside party informs of something previously unknown.

Racism and homophobia occur in individuals and in cultures. For individuals and cultures who view themselves as humanistic and equal, it can be particularly disturbing to be called racist and/or homophobic. However, in order for a society to emerge as truly humanistic, it is up to individuals to recognize and challenge these sentiments in themselves.

And yes, everyone contains these sentiments. America's cultural framework contains stories about people of color and LGBT people that are either negative or avoid-ant altogether, both of which are harmful. At the same time, it positively reinforces heterosexuality and whiteness as the norm, often without knowing. For example, American culture asks and affirms young children about having a boyfriend or girlfriend, whichever is the opposite sex to the child in question. Comments such as, 'so cute she has a boyfriend!' begin when children are between three and five years old. In most areas of the United States, the word, 'American' infers white people. Thus, coca cola's advertisements depicting Americans as having various ethnic backgrounds drew defensiveness in the form of hostility from those possessing the traditional view of what it means to be American.

Ask the black community and they will say that racism significantly affects their lives. Ask the LGBT community and we will say that homophobia significantly impacts our lives. Yet both communities will say they cannot talk about this fact outside of their respective community.

As a society, America is being confronted with and emerging from its blindness of racism and homophobia. It is a difficult and threatening time. Advertisements like coca cola challenge old cultural stories and begin to shift mindsets. LGBT people are coming out and families must choose between loving and leaving.

The choice to love and get to know one another does not fail. The choice to remain distant and avoid-ant breeds more fear and judgment. Yet remaining distant may feel safer, more natural. Resistance to knowing/understanding difference is natural, but it should not be seen as a viable option or as positive conviction in one's beliefs. It is nothing more than fear and ego. Each of us can make the choice to battle this daily, one step at a time. I do not always have the energy or wherewithal to challenge it. I usually want to remain in comfort and I certainly choose comfort some of the time. I am fortunate to have experienced the joy of challenging and changing old beliefs/stories about myself and others. This doesn't make the new challenges easier, but it does give me more confidence and motivation going in.

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