Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bias and Prejudice

These two things have always bothered me...bias and prejudice. I have encountered both in my life, as I am sure others have.

Prejudice in my mind starts negatively with preconceived ideas and bias develops over time resulting in a negative place. In general both have negative outcomes.

I have experienced prejudice of the kind that Indians are smart people. Which is not necessarily negative, but it can be if the person thinking is thinking of themselves as not smart and then they use it against you. Now I always have to tell my students that smartness is good, but hardworking is also good. I don't know if I am smart or not (I don't want to measure my IQ), but hard working is definitely in my nature. I think that does make them feel a little better.

The other prejudice I experience is my age: everyone thinks I am just a young girl. I am glad I look young, but I have experience and I have a mind. I can make decisions and I have something to contribute to the discussions in which I am not taken seriously.

One prejudice that affected me a lot when I was a post doc was when someone said, "Girls cannot do good chemistry." That really bothered me. I could not even imagine what lay ahead of me in my life. Was I ready for this fight in my life? I did not want to fight. Being a professor has alleviated some of that issue. Now I am more respected for being a chemist and not challenged.

And now for bias. I believe bias is a learned behaviour. I can have a bias if I like a person or dislike them as a result of their past behaviour. And of course if I like the person then I can forgive small mistakes, which I will not forgive if I dislike the person. The like or dislike can be considered as bias.

I like to think that I am not biased against anyone; if two people come to me with the same problem I treat them the same way. This is especially true in my classes. I do have to give a disclaimer sometimes and tell the students that sometimes I have to decide according to different people's circumstances - which really can be quite different. But that I think is not bias - it is a situation.

I have experienced bias towards me so many times, and there has been nothing I can do about it. I think bias comes from a failure to be fair; a failure to see the difference between right and wrong. It is very hard to remove a bias. By the time a bias is in someone's mind, its game over.

Sadly, this "game over" has been for me a few times. I wish there was some way to remove bias from people's minds. It is negative and it destroys people's lives. It takes a mature and learned person be fair and unbiased.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Long Distance Relationship

The hardest of all relationships - this long distance relationship!

Most of my relationships have been the long distance kind. I left home when I was 11 to study 8th grade in Vanasthali Vidyapeeth. It was a very tough time for me, I was only 11 years old and all the schooling was in Hindi medium when I was brought up in an English medium environment. But I had no choice. I left all my friends in Nigeria for one year and I could never get them back. Had to start all over again. At that time my only communication was with my parents - and that too through letters only.

My second and then on to more long distance relationships...came when I was sent to India again to do my BSc. and MSc. Both were challenging in their own ways. For four years I was separated from my parents and brother and some really good friends.

At that time I did not think much of it, because I just did what my parents told me to do. But when I look back and think about it, I realized that it did make me come closer to my brother. We used to fight a lot about a lot of things - it was a lot of three years of fighting!! So for me, it was a relief to go to India. During those days, letters were the common ways to communicate. And my brother wrote to me. He wrote pages and pages to me about his friends and events etc. that were going on in Nigeria. It was nice. And then when I would go back to Nigeria, we would get along just fine. I don't know if it was the distance or the fact that we were growing up that made us get along. But it turned out to be positive. It did not bring me closer to my parents....My friends...I lost them. Letters do not have the same continuity as meeting every day or every week.

After I left India and went back to Africa, I tried so hard to keep in touch with my friends in India but it was just not possible. Girls get married and they move. One has to be in the same city to keep in touch. I was too far away. So I lost a lot of friends. While I was in India, I lost my friends in Nigeria. When there is no constant communication between friends there is a gap which sometimes can bridge if you were good friends to begin with, but sometimes it just widens. For me, it widened. Letter communication is not so easy to keep up. But the constant going back and forth for me from Nigeria to India was not healthy for my friendships anywhere.

Then came USA. My generation moved a lot. The generation before had a different job ideal and market - loyalty was something. But in the 1990-2000s things changed and one became stagnant if one did not move, especially in the hi-tech field, which is where majority of my friends were. There are not that many Indian professors in small universities; and if they are - they are all women following their husband around.

So in USA it became very common for people to keep moving. It got really tiring for me, as soon as I would make a friend, I would find out they were moving. All my investment in time and emotions was wasted. People make new friends in new locations - obviously - that is the social norm. I also moved a little bit. And even that is tiring. Packing aside, I had to learn the city, overcome my shyness about making friends and become more extroverted. It is all very draining for me. And then either I would move or my friends would move. We would keep in touch for about a year and then things would fizzle out. That has been the story of my life.

I have not lived with family also. My parents live with my brother or by themselves. So essentially a lot of my relationships, even close family ones, have been long distant relationships. I have never lived with anyone after I was 23, even for even a month, to know what it is like to share a house.

These days it is becoming a little easier to maintain contact because of all the social media, but to me that all seems fake. Real relationship is when someone cares about an individual, and not just like a post on facebook. Real relationships are also hard; I will have to deal with personalities, habits and moods of people. But long distance relationships, I think are even harder.

When someone is out of sight - they are also out of mind. I don't have to worry about their daily needs or even occasional needs. I just have to pick up the phone, ask how they are doing, chit chat a bit and done! So now even that seems fake to me. People pretend (or maybe they are genuine) to care and ask all the right questions, but ultimately for me the question is, "What are you doing for me?" Anyone can talk and BS their way in any conversation. Real test of relationship is when you do something for one another.

I have seen in all these years of long distance that people talk a lot, but my needs are not met when I need them. Even when I visit my long distance relations, there is a formality. Things just don't seem genuine to me. Or maybe they do things when I am there, but as soon as I am gone, its as if I was never there at all. Maybe I am becoming more cynical or maybe there is a degradation in relationships. I don't know. As I said, I have never lived with anyone for over 20 years. Maybe that makes me a little wary of people's behaviour.

All I can say now is that these long distance relationships are also becoming hard to maintain. There is also the family aspect. Everyone is busy in their families. I am sure there could be time, but then again, I live alone, so I have time. Maybe family people have a gazillion things to do. So then I end up not talking for weeks or months to people. And that also erodes the relationship. Soon then there is nothing to talk is just about How are you and I am fine. I am not looking at their face or they mine.  And then there is the multitasking in which the attention is divided. And I don't know about others, but I would to give and have complete attention when I am discussing my personal life.

There is no conclusion for this post....I am just saying that long distance relationships are tough and it takes a genuine effort to maintain it. Otherwise there can be a loss of trust and care. And once that is gone, what is remaining in a relationship? Its a farce.

To maintain a long distance relationship, one has to keep meeting to revive those bonds and put life back in them.