I don’t often get out to author readings, but my friend Sarah had an extra ticket to see venerable Canadian Broadcasting Corporation host Eleanor Wachtel interview Michael Ondaatje (of The English Patient fame) for her long-running radio show Writers & Company. While I’d never read any of his work, Wachtel is a compelling interviewer no matter who’s in the hot seat, so I figured why not.
I arrived early (as usual) and Sarah was running a bit late, so I scored great seats for us near the front and took out my phone to catch up on emails while killing time. An older woman asked if another seat next to me was available, and joined me at our table. As I age, my definition of “older woman” morphs upwards, but I would later find out she was in her late seventies.
When Sarah arrived, we somehow ended up in a conversation about Montreal’s BIXI bike-sharing program, and the woman next to us casually joined in our chat, opining about the best BIXI subscription formula, and whether the bikes were suitable for shorties like the three of us. (Apparently they are.)
In the course of our conversation, Sarah revealed that she’s a librarian at McGill University, and I instantly thought, “Oh, the lady is going to be so tickled to meet a librarian – she’s obviously very into books and reading.” But the woman barely reacted. She turned to me next, “And what do you do?”
“Well, I’m a Happiness Engineer, which means I do tech support.” A smile spread across her face. “Yeah, I help people with their WordPress websites, it’s a software for content management and blogging.”
The lady’s face lit up – I mean beamed. “WordPress? I know what that is, in fact I just took over managing a WordPress site for an association I belong to, I’m in the process of figuring it all out!”
In that moment I realized exactly what I’d done. My brain’s unconscious bias had taken over, and I’d totally stereotyped her interests and knowledge, based on her age and gender.
Although I’d disappointed myself, there was still time before the reading started to perhaps make amends a little bit. I pulled up her website on my phone and proceeded to try to engineer some happiness…
Flickr photo by Mac Juster. Canada. Department of Manpower and Immigration. Library and Archives Canada. Creative Commons 2.0