This famous experiment is famous for exposing the nature of isms. Racism, sexism, ageism, etc. etc. It’s also fascinating as a demonstration of how much the world has changed. As brilliant as the teacher is—even she is rather casual regarding a case of child abuse. But nevertheless this remains a powerful study into human identity.
When it comes to the people in the video—rather than discuss racism or how they saw others, I am more interested in how they saw themselves. How quick they were to believe they we’re better… If you believe you’re not vulnerable to those sort of influences, then I would submit that you would be one of the cases that was in the deepest. Words create separation. There are no black people or white people, because where exactly would the line be? Is it this guy, or her? Is it by colour, or lineage, or year, or…? The truth is, everyone will have their own line in their own head. Realities are separate. One person can love someone, and yet another person may hate them. Better to erase the barriers between us than to try to overcome the hate.
This was a clever exercise, and she went on to do it at the corporate level for years. Pay particular attention to how easily their definition impacted their thoughts and therefore their feelings. Some think it’s not fair, and they get angry. Some think they deserve it, and they feel sad and disappointed. Some kids are scared because they’re having trouble trying to figure out what to think. But what’s really important is that with just a few suggestions from someone in authority, people realized completely different aspects of themselves.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations around the world.