Give the Other Person’s Story Equal Status

January 26, 2015

Categories: Justice,Listening

I wrote a blog post recently about the events of Ferguson and the importance of humble listening, especially to the stories of people of color.

Today I want to talk to you about the importance of giving the other person’s story equal status when compared to your own story.

Back in 1954, Gordon Allport wrote a now-famous book called The Nature of Prejudice. One of his big ideas was the Contact Hypothesis, which basically says contact and interaction with people from different racial groups can reduce prejudice and increase cooperation.

However, not just any kind of contact worked to reduce prejudice. There were some necessary factors that had to be in place for the contact to be beneficial.

I think this idea makes sense. We probably can think of a time when we had a negative interaction with someone from another racial group. Instead of helping reduce our prejudices, this negative interaction may have actually reinforced our prejudices and stereotypes.

One of the necessary factors Allport talked about is the people in the interaction needed to have equal status. It didn’t work, for example, if one person was in charge or had authority over the other person. The people needed to be at the same level.

I think we can apply this principle when humbly listening to another person’s story. I think we have a tendency to prioritize our own story and experience. We tend to think of our own story as ‘more true.’ This makes sense in a way, as it is our personal experience. We have a whole lifetime of evidence supporting our story and view of the world.

However, to give peace a chance in our country, and to give ourselves the opportunity to work on our prejudices toward other racial groups, I think we need to give the other person’s story equal status. We have to give their experience equal weight. We need to value the other person’s story and experience as much as we value our own.

Action Step: Read a story from someone who is from a different racial group than you. As you read, ask yourself: Can I value this person’s story and experience as much as my own? How would my view of the world change if I believed this person’s story as true? How would I need to change my life if I gave equal importance to this person’s experience?


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