By Leslie Manookian
When I was growing up in the 1960s and the 1970s my dad told me I could do and be anything I wanted. While that might not sound revolutionary to younger generations, it sure seemed revolutionary to me, and I think, to my father, at the time. My father is of Armenian heritage. His father was born in the old country and made his way to the US as a young teenager. My Armenian grandmother married my grandfather at age 15 and welcomed her first child at age 16. The old ways were a big part of my father’s life.
Despite this upbringing, as my father saw changes in the world around him, he encouraged me to be anything I wanted. He encouraged me to work hard, put myself out there, do my best and be all I could be. He did not tell me to expect sexists, to beware of a glass ceiling, that the deck was stacked against me, or that it would be harder for me than my older brother. Those thoughts were never a part of my consciousness. I expected to be seen for who I was and what I did.
Some folks say that we experience in the world what we think in our brains and feel in our hearts. So, if you think the world is filled with hateful people that’s exactly what you will find. And if you expect to be treated poorly, you will be. On the other hand, if you expect to be treated fairly, to be recognized for your performance, you’re more likely to encounter just that.
My dad taught me that if I just focused on doing a good job, that would be recognized. That was exactly my experience when I began working on Wall Street in the 1990s. Wherever I went, all anyone seemed to care about was my job performance. I was recognized and promoted repeatedly for a job well done – over men and women – often older and more experienced than me. I never felt I was held back because I was a woman. And that was 30 years ago, on a trading floor, in a supposed man’s world.
I share all this because it seems there is a very negative mentality rising in the country today. The starting point is not confidence that one will be recognized for one’s accomplishments, but fear that one’s gender, skin color, or another externality will be the deciding factor. This orientation poses a variety of dangers. First, the young person’s consciousness has the seed of victimhood planted in it which can’t possibly benefit him or her. Second, focusing attention on groups and superficial differences undervalues who we are as individuals and leaves less space for us as individuals. Third, a nation focused on groups and differences is a nation divided.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting there aren’t problems in our country or that all people are decent and fair. I’m not arguing against continuing to raise awareness regarding racism, sexism, and any other isms that persist today. I simply want to encourage you to plant seeds of promise in your children’s and your own minds. To trust that most people are kind, just, open, and want the best for their fellow citizens. To know that when you hold those thoughts in your mind and heart, you’re more likely to encounter them in your life.