Culture3 min read

Book Review: The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh

The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh

This book will help you have difficult and bolder conversations, confront uncomfortable truths and not be afraid to talk about race as long as you’re willing to learn.

Rather than trying to turn us into perfect, fully woke people, The Person You Mean to Be treats us as falliable human beings. Even though you’ll need to confront some uncomfortable truths as you read through it, this book offers hope that we can always be better. It feels very relevant for the time we’re in now.

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All rights reserved by Harper Business

🔥 The hot take

Most of us want to be “a good person”. But when we get so focused on being good and stop accepting that we make mistakes along the way, we set ourselves up for failure. We walk on eggshells, terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing. When you don’t take risks or make mistakes, you won’t learn.

No one’s perfect. Even good people have bias and screw up sometimes. But we all have the capacity to learn and become better. Instead of getting hung up on being a good person, Chugh argues we should focus on being good-ish. And, in fact, our mistakes make us better people (provided we have a growth mindset).

Instead of having a fixed mindset that says “I am not a racist” (or similar) and gets defensive at any criticism, acknowledge that you’re fallible and a work in progress. The book gives practical tips to listen to your growth mindset voice. When you say the wrong thing, instead of getting defensive or apologising or bailing out, you can simply say, “That wasn’t my intention. Would you be willing to tell me what I did wrong?”

Chugh reminds us that our unconscious biases usually don’t align with our conscious beliefs. But this doesn’t make us bad people. The Person You Mean to Be shows us how biases show up in our behaviours and reminds us that they can be corrected.

You’re encouraged to self-reflect throughout the book. Rather than bristle when someone suggests that you have privilege, Chugh suggests you think about how “tailwinds” have propelled you forward in life. And make an effort to find out how “crosswinds” have held you and others back.

We constantly have the chance to make new connections and learn from others and our mistakes, through social media, everyday conversations, and any old day at the office. This book gives meaningful tips, examples and reassurance as we “stumble upwards” to be good-ish people.

🗺️ Where this book will take you

  1. No one starts out perfect. Instead, adopt a growth mindset and learn. Even people who we’d consider “one of the good guys” have their own biases. What matters is what we do about it.
  2. Consider how to act when you can’t even see the problem. Bias isn’t just about in-your-face discrimination. I can be as simple as excluding someone different to you when they try to join a conversation because you don’t notice them. The book challenges some of our most deeply held beliefs, like the idea that we live in a meritocracy. What happens when the old ideas of hard work don’t pay off for everyone? How does privilege propel some people forward, when others are held back?
  3. What are the ordinary privileges we take for granted and don’t even notice? Chugh encourages us to admit that we have done things wrong in the past. That our actions may cause us shame and pain. But we can use this shame to grow and be better tomorrow.
  4. So how do we take the next step to be good-ish people? We learn from people and actions around us by choosing to be wilfully aware. Even people who see themselves as good can be ignorant of their biases and behaviours. Ordinary people still play a role in everyday racism, sexism or any form of discrimination. We can be better people by keeping our eyes open and reflecting. Once you open your eyes, you’ll see things you may never have noticed before.
  5. How to confront others when we see a chance to educate and challenge bias. The book gives practical actions to be more inclusive in our work and social lives, and how to support those around us. Chugh reminds us that being a good person isn’t easy. And it’s work that’s never finished. But it’s worth it.

🔧 What this book wants you to do differently

  • Engage your growth mindset. We’ve all slipped up at some time. What matters is that we learn from these mistakes. Try using the phrase “That was a good mistake”.
  • Instead of obsessing about being a good person, focus on being good-ish. Try not to get defensive! Make an effort to find out how you can be better.
  • Acknowledge your privilege. Ordinary privileges push us forwards ahead of others without us realising it. This doesn’t make you a bad person or mean you haven’t worked hard. But there are tailwinds and headwinds that affect people’s lives, even when we think we’re living in a meritocracy.

⚡ The must-discuss parts

Nice people still play a part in racism. People who aren’t typical racists still play a role in systems that preserve and perpetuate racism.

Good intentions can be counterproductive. Have you tried engaged in saviour mode, sympathy mode, tolerance or typecasting? These good intentions do more harm than good.

Beware of the dangers of generalization. Women may be lumped into the same group. But a white woman’s experiences won’t be the same as those of a woman of color. Don’t assume the whole group looks and thinks the same, and has the same lived experience.

Seek out different points of view. Too often we dismiss other perspectives that don’t match the dominant perspective.

🛒 Where to buy

UK customers can buy the book here.

U.S customers can buy the book here.

This book review was first published in the Inclusion Works Leaders Network – a digital community for D&I leaders to swap challenges and ideas. If you have views you’d like to discuss, you can sign up here.

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