(First published, August 2001)
I am going to debrief you about an intense emotional experience from your past.
Think of a time when you were treated unfairly.
If you recall a lot of such incidents, select the most intense one. If you feel that you were never treated unfairly, you are in a state of denial. Reach back further into your childhood and find something bad that happened to you.
Answer the following questions, focusing on your feelings. Don't be mature and understanding. Avoid intellectual analyses. Return to the time and the place. Relive the experience. Visualize exactly how you felt. Pretend it is happening to you right now.
How do you feel? Sad? Obsessed? Anxious? Agitated? Disorganized? Miserable? Lost?
How do you feel physically? Tense? Stressed out? Aching? Clenching your teeth? Shallow breathing? Sweating? Crying? A knot in your stomach? Exhausted? Sleepless? Lost your appetite? Tearful? Heavy?
How do you feel about yourself? Damaged? Helpless? Hating your life? Hateful? Hoping to die? Self-critical? Worthless? Empty? Like a failure? Sick? Guilty?
How do you feel about others? Abandoned? Alone? Exploited? Singled out? Friendless? Paranoid? Betrayed?
Hold on to these feelings for some more time.
Now think about this question: How would you feel if this type of unfair incident happened to you every day of your life?
This, my friend, is an experiential definition of discrimination.
Take a deep breath. Let go of the feelings. Return to the present. Relax.
During my cultural diversity workshops, participants frequently ask me for a definition of discrimination. Instead of giving them a direct answer, I take them through this thought experiment. Only after they feel the concept in their guts, I supply them with the verbal definition: treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit.