The Iceberg and the Mirror

Self-Reflection Exercise

This activity will take 10 minutes.  You will need a piece of paper and something to write with and a mirror. If you have a journal, use it.

As you look at the picture of the iceberg above, you should notice that about 10% of the ice mountain sits above the water line.  This is the part of the iceberg that you normally can see.  About 90% of the ice mountain is below the surface of the water and usually not seen. Now draw a picture of an iceberg on your piece of paper.

Now look at yourself in the mirror.  What do you see?  What do other people see when they encounter you?  Imagine someone who has never met you before – how would they describe you?  Your skin color, your gender, your height…Write your observations about what you see on a piece of paper above the surface of the water line.  This is important, so write down what you see.

Now think about all the personal characteristics that are NOT readily apparent to others who encounter you.   Write those characteristics on the piece of paper below the water line. You might include your education, your employment, your religion, your relationships, etc.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. Where do most of your characteristics about yourself fall – above or below the line?
  2. Where do the characteristics that have the most importance to you fall – above or below the line?
  3. Do people ever make assumptions about “who you are” using characteristics that they can only see?  If so, how does that make you feel?
  4. What skills do you use to reveal what lies below the surface of the water in your relationships?

Stereotypes abound when there is distance.
They are an invention, a pretense that one knows when the steps that would make real knowing possible cannot be taken or are not allowed bell hooks

Adapted from the Iceberg Analogy in the 2006 publication by the National Multicultural Institute.


Stacie L. Walton MD, MPH, recently retired from Kaiser Permanente as a clinical Pediatrician serving in the roles of both Diversity Champion and Communication Consultant. She served as a medical consultant in diversity issues for healthcare providers and institutions for over 25 years.

Currently, her cultural competency themes highlight the impact of implicit bias and privilege in patient interactions and health outcomes, as well as, how effective patient-provider communication requires both competences and humility.

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