When I was a new therapist, I found myself involved in what is sometimes called a NIMBY issue. NIMBY means “not in my back yard”, and refers to opposition to types of development or people living too close to one’s own living space. My situation involved community resistance to state-mandated rental housing for individuals recovering from serious mental illness. I remember a lot of shouting and threats from residents at town meetings.
To try and calm the situation, my boss decided to personally reach out to the angriest and most outspoken folks. I thought this was a great idea until I was told that it was me who would be doing the visiting. I remember standing on each front porch, young, inexperienced and very scared. But after three visits, I had learned a valuable lesson.
I discovered that each protesting family had a mystery story to tell about a mentally ill relative, someone who had been hidden away, the actual facts shrouded in secrecy and susceptible to exaggeration. Over the years I was to learn much more about the destructive power of family secrets, and how fear and lack of knowledge can support so much of what we know as bias.