Dealing with Otherness

Bob Wells | 22 Jul 2019

When most of us look out across the table, the room, or street, the color of someone’s skin, the style of clothes that they wear, or the sound of their voice can make us nervous if they are not a mirror to ourselves. This fear often leads us to take regrettable action, or regrettably, fail to act when appropriate.

Many others claim to see no differences among people. However, to see no difference in people is to deny the fact that each person is unique and special and has a rich back story because of those differences. To judge someone as inferior based on their racial difference is to be that lowest form of person, a racist. The more appropriate way is to acknowledge AND embrace those differences.

As fitness professionals, it behooves us to be able to, and want to, help people of all colors, shapes, sizes, and cultures. An inability to effectively deal with others limits our ability to help them reach their fitness goals and can significantly lower, not only our potential income, but more importantly, our tremendously positive impact on the world.

Instead of fear, we must be truly excited about what this opportunity to encounter diversity means. It is an opportunity to improve our knowledge and skills, while building our network in the process.

More importantly, it means being able to help even more people reach their health and fitness goals. Here are some ways to approach and embrace this diversity:

Be excited about otherness and embrace the opportunity. Many people are afraid of being in a new situation because of what they don’t know. Instead, we should adjust our mindsets and be truly excited about what we will get to know as a result of this new experience. We will get to learn more about our potential clients’ culture. For example, if there are a lot of Spanish speakers in our clubs (and with a little effort on our part), we will be able to start to learn more Spanish, especially the names for exercises (squat is sentadilla in Spanish) and be able to hold conversations in another tongue. How cool is that?!

Meet them on their “terms”, whenever possible. Even if you are not fluent in their native tongue, aim to be at least conversational. When the differences are cultural/religious, be mindful of and respectful of those differences. For example, while many Jewish Orthodox women will have a business relationship with a man, the laws of shomer negiah proscribe touch between genders. Knowing this and not offering hugs or handshakes will prevent very awkward situations and increase your client’s trust in you since you took the time to learn about something important to your client.

Be the student and let them be the master. Think about how much we love to be the experts, to be able to help nearly anyone and answer nearly any questions that clients or members pose to us. It feels great, right? Our clients and members feel the same way, and it’s easy to do.

If you are planning to cook a special birthday dinner for your spouse, or best friend, ask your chef client for ideas and potential recipes and food pairings. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, ask your French client for recommendations for the best restaurants in town and the must-see sights and to-do activities there. (FYI, I need some tapas and beer recommendations for Argentina in September.)

Give a damn and let people know it. In situations, like most in life, when people are different, it is vital to be sincere, try to connect with them, and to actually give a damn about other people. Even a little effort lets others know that we really care and will go a long way. We, and our clients, are better off because of it.

Please feel free to post any comments/questions below or email them to bob.wells@alumni.duke.edu.

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Bob Wells

About the author: Bob Wells

Bob Wells graduated from Duke University, where he studied Psychology and Biological Anthropology and Anatomy. He is the CEO and Founder of Bob Wells Fitness, and he is currently helping develop sports nutrition courses and material for multiple universities.

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