What’s Your Filter

By Reem Papageorgiou | September 15, 2020

Imagine if today, upon awakening, you were told that you had to choose one of the following people to be; which would you choose?

  • A 65-year-old female economist from Ukraine living in San Francisco with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, working as a cleaning lady in a nursing home 
  • A devout Egyptian Muslim doctor working in Brooklyn making 50% less than his peers
  • A recovering drug addict living in the car with 2 children
  • A Syrian refugee who was a leading optometrist working at Marshalls.
  • An African American nurse working in a clinic that serves only Latinos
  • A 40-year-old female recently divorced and recently diagnosed with chronic fatigue re-entering the work force
  • An East Indian doctor working in a predominately white rural community in Mississippi
  • A 50-year-old gay male business executive

CHOOSE. Go on. No one is watching.

You can imagine how this exercise would play out in a live workshop. It forces participants to share their thoughts and opinions out loud and to explore their own filters. The power of looking at this on your own, however, in your own space, is just as compelling.


Take a moment and think about the following:

  • How did you choose?
  • Why did you choose it?

Did one situation seem easier than the other, less daunting, more like yourself or familiar?

It’s 2020. If it was 1985 would you have picked differently?

Most anyone reading this has heard of and understands implicit bias. Some of us think we even know our own biases. We have good intent, but because so much of it is unconscious, there is always more we must strive to recognize.  How you went about choosing was determined, in essence, by what you experienced or were taught about the world and how it works when you were young. What we bring to the table today is our own filter about how we see and understand the world. So, knowing that, how do we address our own bias and rise?

Catch It

How do we catch our bias in action? First, take a step back.  It’s easier sometimes to learn when we think outside of ourselves rather than hold up the mirror for our first step. Imagine you answered the questions sitting with a friend (think BuzzFeed quiz); what are the odds you would pick the same situation? How likely is it that your reasons for picking something were in agreement with that of your friend? Did the mental image you pictured about each option match the image of your friend pictured? Probably not.

To push it a little further, when you read each possibility, ask yourself, “Was the doctor male or female? The Nurse?  Did you determine getting paid less was depressing or did you think being around family or safety made this situation “more” ideal?

When you can start catching those interpretations you begin the journey of awareness. (By the way most people who do participate in this exercise assume the doctor is male, even in 2020).  Most people jump to evaluate first, rather than allow for multiple interpretations, but we need to do just that before we act. We must do better.

Build It

To do better, we have to sit through the discomfort and awkwardness to grow and ultimately live more comfortably. But how?

  1. Become Aware of Your Lens. Get out of denial and start looking for it. The more you catch it, the more you will start to see it.
  2. Learn. Tap into other cultures. Talk to others, diversify your social media platforms, news feeds, publications, networking and social groups.
  3. Ask. Don’t be afraid of this. You are going to make mistakes but rather than go silent out of awkwardness, learn from them.  You can say, “I want to do better, what do you suggest I do?” So many of us withdraw because it feels “easier” but the message you are really sending is that you really aren’t driven or committed to improve.
  4. Be Uncomfortable. Push yourself to put yourself in different situations than you are used to and expose yourself to different cultures where you are the minority.
  5. Speak Up.  Start with low hanging fruit to build those advocacy muscles. Find someone who feels “safer” on the continuum and say something. By speaking up you are stopping the microaggressions in their tracks.

The beauty of our diverse world is just that – the greatness of its diversity. What will we continue to miss out on if we don’t unlock and challenge our own bias; if we don’t work toward and strive for equity and inclusion?  

Challenge yourself to live with a daily practice of curiosity and willingness to do things differently. Take a moment and map outsteps: What’s your personal plan?

We all have the same basic needs  for dignity, survival, and social contact.

What is different between groups is the way in which these
needs are satisfied.

– Sandra Thiederman