Being a Better Interpreter and a Better Human –
Empathy and Prejudice
Racism. Ableism. Prejudice. Privilege. Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. For millions of Americans these are nothing more than loaded concepts thrown around on the news and on social media. Their daily lives are unaffected in any noticeable way.
For millions of Americans these “concepts” affect almost every action they take throughout their day. As Interpreters and service providers we work with people of all kinds on a daily basis. We owe it everyone particularly to our coworkers and our clients to truly root out any prejudice we may have.
“It’s 2021. Why is this still a problem?”
But really, why? From a young age, we notice differences between ourselves and others. From height, weight, gender, to skin color and more, it’s only natural to see them. The problem arises when we focus too much on these differences. We focus so much on what is different that we begin to think that what is not “normal” for us is not only different, but “less than”. At their most basic level all the “isms” and the prejudices that come along with them are the end results of this “less than” attitude.
What can I do?
The problem is that there is too much focus on differences. So, the solution must be the opposite. Focus on similarities.
Rather than contrast our lives with people who are different than us in some way, we need to empathize with them. Once we do that, we will realize that all people, no matter their background, are similar to us in one important way – We are all human. This is the first step to ridding ourselves of our “less than” thoughts.
On your next assignment think about all the individuals involved,
- Do they enjoy a nice meal with family like I do?
- Are they exhausted on a Friday night after a long week of work?
- Are they worried about the safety of their kids like I am?
- Do they jam out to their favorite song in the car?
By asking ourselves questions like these we can easily see how much we really have in common. Then, we can take the process even further.
- How do I feel when someone talks down to me?
- How would I feel if someone judged my intellectual abilities by my appearance?
- How would I feel if a potential employer didn’t call me back because of my disability, my gender, or my skin color?
- How would I feel if I was approached by law enforcement that have a history of killing people who look like me?
When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and we truly understand how they feel, it’s easy to see how much more similarities than differences there are. We can’t ever live their experiences, but we can understand their feelings and emotions.
If we work at it a little every day, little by little, we can rid ourselves of this problematic difference seeking “less than” attitude and replace it with the tolerant, understanding “same as” attitude. When we do this, we will become better interpreters, service providers, coworkers, and most of all better humans.