Wednesday, August 03, 2016

See the ROTUS in Action, Grow as a Person

I find this video tour of the West Wing especially powerful. What makes it so is that it's lead by the West Wing's ROTUS (Receptionist Of The United States), Leah Katz-Hernandez, who happens to be deaf. The American Sign Language tour is a nod to the 26th anniversary of the signing of the American with Disabilities Act.

It's tempting to treat this as inspiration porn, which is a decidedly bad idea. No, I'm enamored with this video from a totally different angle.

A while back a friend remarked how she struggled to think of a meaningful action to take with respect to the police violence that was splashed across the headlines. After much mulling, the best I could come up with was this simple first step to take:

Next time you take your kids to the playground look around. Do all the kids look like your children? If so, find another playground.

My hypothesis is that as people we're designed to build up patterns and use these patterns to make quick decisions. This let's us function without knowing the full details of a given situation. Of course, these patterns break down. At times, this can be harmless. A friend of mine told me that her daughter went to all female pediatric office. At one point she asked, "Dad, can boys be doctors too?"

Other times, these patterns can lead to horrendously bad outcomes. This American Life has covered this topic quite well, and I'd urge you to listen these two episodes: 547: Cops See It Differently, Part One and 548: Cops See It Differently, Part Two, to see what I'm blabbing on about.

I think Einstein said it well when he remarked:

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.

In other words, you're not going to get rid of these patterns, be they helpful common sense or hurtful prejudice. But you can add to them and make them more nuanced. And that's why I love the video tour of the Whitehouse. We should see Ms. Katz-Hernadez for what she is: not a hero or outlier, but as a dedicated and likable employee. Having kids see her in this role helps neutralize the idea that her deafness turns her into an 'Other' or that people with deafness should limit their aspirations.

Here's the video:

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