How Assumptions About Others Can Diminish Our Communities

It was weird listening to Christina Parker-Hopkins, President and Co-Founder of the Iron Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club talk about sisterhood. I was at my Business and Professional Women club meeting last week, where Hopkins was our guest speaker.  Many of her Iron Sirens “family” were in the audience, dressed in jeans, dew rags and leather vests with patches.  It all seemed a bit surreal, and very different from our buttoned down members.  But as Parker-Hopkins began to speak, I realized why she was there.

Thames Valley Iron Sirens & Members of BPW London Executive

Thames Valley Iron Sirens & Members of BPW London Executive. Can you tell who belongs to which club?

She described an organization that valued collaboration, the enjoyment of women’s company, and the the contributions of women from all walks of life, be they truckers or bankers. They value what nonprofit organizations do in our communities. They work hard to raise money for these organizations. They value companionship of other women in a safe environment.  They value learning about each other, and value each other’s differences.  The more she talked about the challenges her organization faced, and the culture it had built, the more I realized that our two organizations had similar goals and values.

Human beings are hard wired to assess another person when we meet them in a matter of seconds. Scientists hypothesize that this is a behaviour to promote safety. We can quickly determine whether someone is a part of our tribe, a harmless visitor, or a threat to personal safety. So when we meet someone who is “different” we tend to unconsciously assume that they are not safe and we therefore avoid them. Of course, this “safety” behaviour has a tendency to result in the dismissal of people who we perceive to be “different”.  The more divergent the person or people are from our notions of “normal”, the more likely we are to dismiss or avoid them.  And we are the poorer for it.

Parker-Hopkins talked a lot about building community and building family within the Iron Sirens.  Founded in 2010 with 15 members, the Iron Sirens now boast over 600 members across Canada.  It’s clear that what they are doing is working. While the Iron Sirens build community differently than the Business and Professional Women’s Club, we have the same values and beliefs.  That will teach me the risks of making assumptions about other people.  As we left the meeting, the Iron Sirens smiled and waved at us as they mounted their bikes.  We were now a part of their sisterhood in some small way. They have added to my life.  Although I will probably never drive a motorcycle, I hope to experience the gift of community that the Iron Sirens posses.

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