One of the great cartoons involves two goldfish in a tank talking to one another. One responds in surprise, “wait, there’s water?”
When we don’t see the water, it’s a sign we’re benefitting from being part of the dominant culture.
And since we’re not fish, we can learn to see the water and figure out how it is affecting us and the people around us.
Visit a country where they don’t speak English and you’ll probably remind yourself all day that you speak English, something you didn’t have to think about last week. You’ll have to work overtime to understand and communicate. Back home, that stress disappears.
Living within a dominant culture means being reminded of this all day, every day.
When media images, policies and corporate standards tell someone that they are an outsider who needs to fit in in non-relevant ways, we’re establishing patterns of inequity and stress. We need to be clear about the job that needs to be done, the utility we’re seeking to create, but not erect irrelevant barriers, especially ones we can’t see without effort.
Good systems are resilient and designed to benefit the people who use them.
If the dominant culture makes it harder for people who don’t match the prevailing irrelevant metrics to contribute and thrive, it’s painful and wasteful and wrong.
It’s becoming more and more clear to me how much ‘water’ there is in the world I live in. Much of it is needless and counterproductive. Unfair, too. It will take an enormous amount of effort and persistence to reduce it. I’m working hard to see it. Because it’s everywhere.
*Originally published on sethsblog.
Seth Godin has written eighteen books that have been translated into more than thirty languages. Every one has been a bestseller. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and, most of all, changing everything.
Image courtesy of Chang Duong.