Unintended Consequences: Be Careful What You Say
Cultural sensitivity training in hospitals has been around for a few years now. Several people thought it was a waste of time, citing basic manners as the only requirement for getting along. It was just another bunch of customer service babble that we were required to sit through.
Being blatantly honest, I admit I occasionally had the same thought... until recently. As the world watched this Frankenstorm Sandy rip across the Caribbean toward our Eastern Seaboard this week, I heard some unbelievably stupid remarks come out of the mouths of supposedly intelligent professionals. No amount of training is going to fix stupid, so you kind of just ignore those. I can't even repeat some of them, but I can tell you that surprisingly, it was the most innocent stupid remark that affected me the most.
As a group of us watched CNN coverage of the storm as it took apart Haiti, a colleague said, quite sympathetically and seriously, "Poor Haiti. It should just sink completely and get it over with." Every single person there knew exactly what she meant, and agreed. Or should I say, we knew and agreed with what she intended it to mean. But after a few minutes passed, another colleague rose and excused herself saying she needed to call home and check on her family. She was asked where her family lived, and her tearful reply was, "The island you all want to sink." She was from Haiti.
We obviously needed that training...and maybe some more.