Review: “The Person You Mean to Be” by Dolly Chugh


23 September 2019

Most of us like to think of ourselves as good people who care about others and contribute to making the world a better place. By “good” I mean having integrity, feeling empathy for others, and listening to and valuing the people around you more than you value material possessions. 

For me—and for all of us, really— I don’t always live out those ideals to full capacity. Take, for example, minutes ago when I impulsively raced to the office coffee machine to ensure that I get my own cup before my colleagues take the last of it. Still, I would get very defensive if they accused me of being a bad person. I might begin recounting several reasons that prove I am quite the opposite. 

In our September book of the month, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, author Dolly Chugh advises that we let go of the idea that we are either good or bad and accept that we are each a work in progress. She says we should choose to accept ourselves as “goodish” people, rather than good. A person with good intentions but makes mistakes is still developing. This allows us more room to notice where we need to improve and to begin to do something about it. It moves us from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Self-interest more often drives our decisions than the unselfish values we profess. One reason is that the vast majority of our decisions are automatic responses based on subconscious bias. With thousands of pieces of information coming into it at any given moment, our mind is only able to consciously process 40 of them at a time. This means it has to rely on multiple shortcuts to help us in making the myriad of decisions required for us to function. 

As Dolly defines in the book, unconscious bias is formed by the associations that have gone into forming those shortcuts and the disappointing truth is that your subconscious bias does not always line up with your conscious beliefs.

We all have blind spots and could do with helpful coaching to assist us in recognizing what those blind spots are and how they affect others. The Person You Mean to Be is a book intended for people who, regardless of political view, background or personal identity, are willing to balance their judgment of others with the opportunity to honestly examine themselves.  

I experienced this book as a thought-provoking tool to help me question and reflect more deeply on how I form my decisions. The tools and strategies Dolly provides gave me a valuable opportunity to challenge my inner bias and to ensure I am growing in my empathy and understanding of other people. She challenges readers to ensure we are helping build a world in which everyone is valued and heard.

The Person You Mean to Be isn’t a book you should skim through. Take the time to use it to search your heart, lift the stones of bias you find and examine what lies beneath. It may be an unrecognized fear that is keeping you from hearing and trying to understand others. Allow this book to inspire you to rewire that subconscious tendency to categorize and judge others.  

The truth about our human condition is that not one of us is completely good. We are each a work in progress, aspiring to be better. Accepting that brings us a step closer to accepting and giving grace to others. It invites us to take more steps to start conversations with people who look and think differently than we do. We’ll most likely find out that they are, just like us, a “goodish” person, striving to be a better human.

 “If you are not part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.” — Dolly Chugh


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