S.O.B. Workshop heals hurt, gives hope

By Zena Hardt

Tuesday afternoon, around 30 students and adults gathered at the Cultural House to discuss Socially Offensive Behavior with activist and corporate trainer Henry Lee of Vaughn-Lee & Associates.Mr. Lee’s objectives were to help the event attendees understand that bias shows up at school, work and in society in general, to facilitate understanding of where bias comes from, and to provide information on how to respond when faced with bigotry.

A significant point raised is that the classic Golden Rule-to treat others as you would like to be treated-is flawed. It operates on the premise that everyone wants to be treated the same way.

Mr. Lee supports living by the Platinum Rule instead-to treat others the way they want to be treated.

In order to do so, he suggests spending at least 15 seconds per day getting to know a person with whom you come into contact regularly. You will gradually learn things about the person’s value system and expectations and be able to build a working relationship.

Bigotry is apt to rear its ugly head at any time, so it is important to always be prepared to react in the proper manner.

Instead of responding with anger and accusations, which will immediately make the offending person defensive and destroy the learning opportunity, one must address the individual personally.

According to Mr. Lee, a good approach would be to say, “You probably didn’t intend to offend me; however, if we’re going to work together, it is important that you understand how I feel.”

Focus on getting the person to understand the impact the statement had upon you, whether or not it was deliberate.

Taking speaking out a step further, one can disarm someone by saying, “As head of the department/my friend/etc., I have a lot of respect for you. Is that really how you feel about all ______ people?”

This approach forces people to examine the implications of their statements more closely and implies that they were thought to be above making such statements. If the offenders know what they have said, ask where they got the impression the statement is correct and attempt to deconstruct the ensuing argument.

Finally, never stop objecting to offensive behavior. It may take time for a person to stop speaking a certain way, but constant reminders will bring about change, Mr. Lee said.

Of course, S.O.B. is everywhere. It would be impossible stage an intervention every time a faintly discriminatory comment or joke comes up. One must make judgment calls about when something is hurtful enough to merit discussion.

S.O.B. situations can be trickier when it comes to coworkers or superiors. If one does not feel that one is able to speak directly to the person, one should report to a supervisor or the Human Resources department. Comments that create a hostile work environment could be classified as harassment.

After two hours of thinking about the significance of culture, S.O.B. discussion attendees filed out of Cultural House having shared past experiences with bigotry with the hopes that they are better equipped to combat the stereotypes that are ingrained in our culture.