Over the years, I’ve had my favorite senior care residents. Many of them. Anyone who works in this profession probably has some too.

 I’m particularly drawn to those who are funny, optimistic, resilient, articulate and who smile a lot. No surprise there, as those are areas in need of frequent augmentation in my own life. 

In the world outside the workplace, as I go about my activities of daily living, I catch myself doing the same thing. From the grocery store to the pharmacy to the restaurant to the gym, I always have my favorites, usually matching the above criteria. And guess what? Favorites get treated better.

Understand, I’m not mean to the others. I just don’t notice them as much. I’m not as tuned in to their needs, and not as motivated to extend myself on their behalf. Not because I’m a jerk, but because the people I like are the ones I tend to see. Others get too easily lost on the periphery.   

I’m probably not unique in that. To some degree, we’re probably all guilty of unintended, unconscious marginalization. After all, we live in a world where the weird, unpleasant looking, mean, crazy, disabled, heavy or sick simply don’t get the same attention and advocacy as others. It’s sadly just the way things work, and it takes real mindfulness and effort to avoid that trap.

Which brings me back to long-term care. We talk a lot about how mission-driven and well-meaning our nursing home staff are, and from my experience it’s absolutely true. But the last time I checked, they’re still actual people, facing the same pitfalls and human instincts I do, with the same focus points, comfort zones and blind spots as me.  

That’s where leadership comes in, encouraging staff to be ever vigilant for those hidden biases and instincts toward playing favorites. Because the people we serve, all of them, need us to be their attentive advocates, giving our best in equal portions.