I spent the weekend celebrating Gay Pride with my friends. The parade gets longer every year, seemingly with more corporate sponsors, which is both a blessing and a curse. Great to have more support, as long as those companies truly work toward equity and not just give lip service about all kinds of diversity just to gain a target market. During the Obama years, the Pride discussions among my friends centered around what the parade had evolved into. Originally started as an angry protest in response to the police raid in 1969 of a gay club called the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the parade had over the years become a fun, social event. Or just like many other parades. Well, at least here in gay Massachusetts. As rights and acceptance were gained, the gay identity also became mainstream, and there was also a loss — less pushing the boundaries, protesting, challenging the status quo. I haven’t seen a really good group of outrageous drag queens at the parade in years.
Cheeto flea changed all that, or perhaps merely gave voice to the fear that was bubbling just under the surface around gays and “other.” For better or worse, showing up to the Gay Pride parade feels essential again. It’s important to continue to be seen and heard.
Indeed, we seem to be spending much more time these days talking and yelling at each other, and not listening very much. I do it too. Because we all seem to have our panties in a twist about something, maybe listening is too high a bar start with — to just shut our pie holes for a few minutes and listen. It’s biological after all, once our panties are twisted, the heart rate increases and the amygdala gets activated, the part of the brain responsible for the instinctive “fight or flight” response, which pretty much reduces us to our caveman/woman state. Lash out first, and ask questions never. Plus, many of us have stopped actually listening to the people we love and like, so what chance does a stranger with an opposite opinion have?
So maybe we should start with something simpler, such as looking. No, strike that. I mean start with seeing. We look at things all day, but do we really see them? Or see them for what they truly are? When a dog crosses your path, do you see that actual dog, or are you seeing the one that nipped you when you were 5 playing on the neighbor’s swing set? Because of a recent pigeon experience, when I see a pigeon, I’m not seeing the one in front of me, I’m seeing that damn one that hit me in the face, and I want to stomp on the one in front of me.
And I think we have all felt invisible to others at some point, but let’s put that in the parking lot, or as we call it round these pahts, the pahking lawt. We do this in some meetings I go to when you’re trying to figure out how to solve one problem and related problems pop up. However, if you try to deal the new problems, you’ll never solve the first one. Let’s jump off one bridge at a time, shall we?
OK, consider these two examples of not being seen:
- I work with a doctor who is also a senior leader of our organization, and he was on vacation at a ski resort this winter. He told a story of how he was standing outside of the resort, just getting some fresh air, and not 1, but 5 men in a row tried to hand him their keys, mistaking him for a valet. Never mind that valets tend to have jackets clearly marked with the word “valet” or the name and logo of the resort. These drivers were looking, but not really seeing. Well, what they were seeing was a Black man standing in front of a ski resort. I know, I know. Let’s just put racism in the pahking lawt for now. If 1 guy does it, you can call him out. We like that kind of example, because then we can point to that 1 person, call him or her a bad apple, and declare it isn’t me or the people I know. But 5 White guys in a row? That’s what you call “systemic.” As in, it ain’t just a few bad apples, honey. A good first step would be for them to take 5-10 seconds to collect enough information to not make a jerk out of themselves. We can assume they know how valet works because they freely handed the keys to their expensive cars to an utter stranger. So, c’mon people, go beyond your assumptions and really see the person in front of you. Notice that person has no traditional markings of a valet because he’s wearing a plain ski jacket. Then look around to find the actual valet. See? That took 5 seconds. Easy peasey.
- The second story was in the Boston Globe. It’s about how many business people who retired on the Cape have taken jobs parking cars at the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for something to do. “Beyond paying them minimum wage or just slightly above to stand out in the heat and the rain, the job offers these retirees new insights into how differently low-wage service workers are treated.” These retirees are pleasant and chatty and believe in good customer service, but most people barely acknowledged them. Most of these men are white, so we’ve removed the racism card. What remains is not seeing the person providing a service. Sure, the article says most people trying to catch the ferry are stressed. But what if they took 5-10 seconds to get out of their head and acknowledge the person parking their car? They might have a pleasant exchange (the workers are pretty happy — they are retired and doing this for fun!) that would send them off on their vacation on a happier note. At least some of the business people have had some insight, and we hope are getting better at really seeing the valet and others now.
OK, I can feel myself protesting that I rarely do that, and I’m starting to sputter about all the times I’m not seen, yadda, yadda, yadda. OK, I’m putting myself in the pahking lawt, and asking myself straight up:
Who don’t I see?
The person cleaning the hotel rooms, building cleaners in general? The store clerk? The older person struggling to get up a steep step because I’m in a hurry and helping would take time?
For today, or for this week, as you move through the world, spend 5-10 seconds to consider: who aren’t you seeing?