Is This What You Really Meant to Ask Me? by SCN Blog Contributor, Brian Kelly.

What if we were more thoughtful with our questions when asking another person “Where are you ORIGINALLY from?”.  I appreciate that each of us has our own distinctions and experiences that frame the lens through which we see the world.  With this frame, I also see this question as a reflection of why we do not see greater diversity in senior organizational leadership roles, among other issues slowing our progress towards being one connected global human community.

Recently, in the same day, my friend, let’s call her Lisa, shared her story about being asked the question “Where are you ORIGINALLY from?” three times. In two of those cases it was the only question the person asked her.  Lisa, whose ancestors immigrated from Asia to the US, was born in Virginia, so she responded, “FAIRFAX”.  I expect this may have left those asking the question somewhat dumbfounded, especially those who chose not to ask her any further questions. How unfortunate for them as Lisa is quite personable, friendly, intelligent, and articulate. As I reflect on this, I find myself curious about the question these people really wanted to ask Lisa.

Were these individuals wondering if my friend, Lisa, was from Mars, or Venus?  Likely, I would have responded as Lisa did with sharing the town in which I was born. The more playful side of me may have responded to their question, respecting their curiosity while bringing humor to the situation, with “from my mother’s womb”. Who knows it might have led to a second question, and perhaps more in two of those cases.  Which invites the question: would I have wanted to continue a conversation with any of these people?  I don’t know, I suppose it would depend on the individual situation.  I can certainly understand why Lisa may not have wanted to continue any of those conversations.

This question, paying particular attention to the use of “originally”, makes implied presumptions based on a person’s looks.  What does a person born in America look like?  What about your distinctions, or your lens is informing how you frame your question to Lisa? What is it that each of them was really curious about?  How might each have framed this question differently to ask Lisa what he or she really meant to ask?

This situation happens far to often for Lisa, and others who may not fit the prototypical profile of someone born in America.  I hear similar stories from many of my friends and colleagues, particularly those who are not Caucasian. I am a Caucasian male. My ancestors came to America from Ireland, Italy, and Sweden. I, like my friend, am an American.  I was born and raised in the suburbs of New York City. I wonder, if I was the person meeting with the three individuals asking my friend this question, would they have asked me this question?

What if we demonstrated greater awareness and acceptance of differences in exploring our curiosity? In 2016, the face of an American may be different than the face you envision when you think of an American.  As society has evolved, our land of the free and home of the brave has become the birthplace to people of a variety of races, ethnicities, and stories.  It is home to many more immigrants, and first generation Americans, seeking a better life for themselves and their families.  What makes America great is the diversity of its people.  We are the most diverse nation on Earth.  What if we were optimally using this unique positioning to make America stronger, empowering our people, our communities, and our businesses to new heights?  What if we were living from and in greater interdependence with each other?  What would be different?

The demographics of the American population continue to shift to the point that someday soon, I will be categorized as among the minority.  This is the only time in my life, up until now, that I have thought about this.  The lens I look through doesn’t see shades of color in my fellow Americans, it sees human beings, each with their unique stories.  My friends are not my White friends or my Black friends or my Asian friends.  Each of my friends is simply my friend.  Each has their own story.  Their stories are ones I cannot begin to understand from what he or she looks like.

As I have continued to grow, I have learned to be more curious about others different than me. Isn’t that the beauty of our life and our nation?  Living among so many different people, with their unique stories and perspectives, and having the freedom to choose to be curious about those differences rather than be fearful, judgmental, or divisive?

My hope in writing this post is to invite us all to pause and reflect on how we can be more thoughtful in our interactions with each other. Let’s expand our awareness and broaden our perspective so that we embrace difference with acceptance and confident vulnerability. What if you evolved your view of what someone born in the United States of America looked like? Would you then explore your curiosity differently?  What would be different for you? For our one connected global human community?

What if you extended this to your perspective of what a leader looks like?  What if you valued each person as the uniquely brilliant person he or she is?  How might this begin to shift the demographics of senior organizational leadership, and the pipelines that develop emerging and future leaders, to better reflect the uniquely diverse nation we are?  What would be different for you? For our one connected global human community?

Be Bold. Be You. Breakthrough.