(Insert screeching braking noise here)
As it happens, though I'm technically Caucasian given my Azeri origins and my people's proximity to the Caucasus mountains, that's not what this woman meant. She meant white as a code word for "American". I explained to her that given my people being overrun by various Turkmen and Mongols over time, there was a good reason I have these cheekbones.
No need to be alarmed.
In case you're worried, I've not taken leave of my senses and decided to write about bone structure. There is a point. All the while I was speaking with her, I was a little surprised that she "went there" by guessing at ethnicity. It's not usually a safe place to go but she didn't mean anything by it. I started thinking about these little assumptions or judgements we have about others -- innocuous or otherwise.
This actually is a post about knowing with whom you're speaking. It's about taking a moment to think about what you're communicating before you put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, words to mouth, etc. I know that we believe we do it all the time. But I'm suggesting here we don't do it as often or as effectively as we could.
Case in point: this Tuesday, Amir and I will celebrate our 3rd anniversary (the inspiration for our business name comes from our wedding date of 06/07/08). Facebook has kindly reminded me of this date not unlike the reminders I get for friend's birthdays. I know that sometimes people forget anniversaries but, given our business name, it's not as likely in our case... so far!
Facebook suggested I send a message to Amir.
Look, I do not expect Facebook to be "smart" enough to realize I'll likely not forget my anniversary because of my business name. But, I do admit some surprise that it suggested I send him a message. Sure, I suppose I could. But, given our relationship, I could also tell him to his face. Or, if he's out, call him or text him because surely at this point, he's given me his cell phone number.
In a previous life, I learned enough about programming to know that this is an algorithm that pops up a message when a friend's event is near. I get how and why Facebook sent the message suggestion. But, I'm wondering why it's hard for Facebook to have an exception for anniversaries where they resist the urge to suggest we send the other a message -- unless you're into that which is a whole other blog topic/forum altogether.
Who do we think you are?
When I saw the Facebook message suggestion pop up, it got me thinking of the lady and my cheekbones. And, in both instances, I saw the possibility that neither party knew who I was. I also saw that they were pretty comfortable with that. Perhaps the lady thought by bonding with me, I'd bring more dry cleaning business to her (not a chance as their success rate is dismal). And, Facebook being Facebook, it wants me to spend more time on its platform than intended in their aim to dominate share of mind.
In both instances though, their efforts (though admirable) ring hollow. In both instances, instead of feeling like an individual, I was lumped in a group to which I don't belong and treated in a generic sort of manner. In both instances, I have a very small amount of scorn.
And herein lie my questions for you. My anecdotes are tiny and likely soon forgotten by both you and me. However, what if these were significant errors? What if your marketing or sales teams quickly put 2 and 2 together in order to get a quick/larger sale but tragically came up with 5 as their answers? Worse yet, what if they didn't know that 5 was the wrong answer?
Since I mentioned my roots to you in the beginning, I'll end with a Persian poem that fits these anecdotes:
One who knows and knows that he knows
This is a man of knowledge, get to know him!
One who knows, but doesn't know that he knows
This is a man who's unaware, so bring it to his attention.
One who doesn't know, but knows that he doesn't know
This is an illiterate man, teach him!
One who doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know
This is a dumb man, and would be dumb forever.