Seeking to understand

A community learning to become conscious of its implicit biases is a community striving for understanding, equity and love of others.

But some implicit biases, those societally normative, may be harder to identify. Yet a person on the receiving end of that bias knows it hurts, even when the rest of the community is ignorant that it exists.

Members of St. John’s recently heard a well-intended prayer request from a native Canadian to which we responded supportively. It was a request to remember the Canadian victims of a plane that “Iran shot down” one year ago on that date.

The prayer request mentioned no intent, just that it happened.

What didn’t happen after that request was that any of the otherwise curious, thoughtful, intellectual members of the congregation memory-checked or web-checked that plane incident with a supportive chat note that other lives were also lost.

News reports days after the plane crash cited Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying evidence suggested an Iranian missile brought down the aircraft by accident, confirming a statement from Iran.

There were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians including nine crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Britons and three Germans on board the Ukrainian flight. Most of the Canadians’ names were of Persian origin and 147 of the 176 on board were reported to have dual nationality with Iran.

Does that knowledge change the image you had during service Jan. 10?

Those of us on the virtual service were taken aback when our minister admonished us for mentioning the incident because “your minister is from Iran.” I think she meant she was hurt that no one had the memory or curiosity to follow up and add that it wasn’t only Canadians, in fact, few ethnic Canadians, but others, including most of Iranian descent, who perished.

To not include the whole impact may have left the statement, in her eyes, an unchecked insinuation that (white) North Americans were killed by (bad) Middle-Easterners, specifically the leaders of her homeland.

Is it a white-skinned bias that we didn’t follow-up? Is it that enough plane crashes have happened that we just acknowledged that the one-year anniversary of lost lives is worth remembering?

I’d like to think because it’s a tenet of UUism to respect all cultures, we didn’t have any prejudicial thoughts about Iran having been the entity in this case. But now that I looked up the details, I think we fell short.

Life often teaches us that experiences, because they involve people, are complex. Let’s remind ourselves to seek fuller understanding of those experiences, both personal and global.

Also, it would also have been kind to ask the minister or the congregant, did you have any friends or relatives who perished on that flight? Or to ask, what caused the minister such pain?

In our paths to our better selves, including seeking out implicit biases, we also need to forgive ourselves and forgive others. And we need to acknowledge, heal, and learn, together.