The Heroes’ “Howdy” Duty
I remember being "new" on the job. Plus, I was the only non-Black guy on the crew. There was a locker room where the crew ate, and played hearts during the hour lunch break. The first time I walked in, the place went silent and still, everyone staring at me. "Awkward" doesn't begin to describe it. I belonged there like a screen door belongs on a submarine.
Finally, "Dad," the elder statesman of the crew, without even looking up from his cards, said to me, very casually, but so everyone cold hear, "Ain't you gonna eat, boy?"
At those words, the rest of the guys went back to what they were doing, and I found a place on a bench where it could sit and eat my sandwich. Those words also made me part of the crew. I still had to earn respect and trust, but that gesture metaphorically, as well as literally got me in the door.
I've never forgotten it.
Research initiated by psychologist Henri Tajfel (1) in the 1970's has shown that all it takes for us to begin to divvy up the worlds into "us" and "them" is the random flip of a coin. Only minutes after being divided into the A or B group by the coin flip, the participants in Tajfel's experiment rated members of both groups on various attributes, such as intelligence and likability. Overwhelmingly, people rated the members of their own group as more likable and intelligent. They also rated the members of the other group as having less variety in personality than individuals in their own group. Within the span of only a few moments, these ordinary people began to stereotype the other group and to treat them with discrimination- even though the members of both groups were complete strangers at the beginning of the experiment. Tajfel called this phenomenon the minimal group paradigm.
Imagine how difficult it must be to break into an established social group, when the members of the "in" group have developed prejudices against those who are not members of their group. By “reaching out to someone who is not a member of your social group, you can facilitate the group's acceptance of new members.
Your hero workout for this week:
Help someone new to feel included in a group setting.
(1) Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971) Social categorization and intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, I, 149-178. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2420010202
adapted from the Heroic Imagination Project