My husband brought home whole milk plain yogurt from the grocery store…again. Since there was still half a container festering in the fridge from the last time he shopped, I had to ask: “What were you thinking?” I tried to deliver the line with a sing-songy up-tone as though I really thought he had a plan for it. “Sometimes people like it for breakfast?” he answered, almost as a question. Except for the fact that our son won’t eat plain yogurt because it’s bitter, I won’t eat it because of the full-fat, and we’re the only people who live in our house, it was a great idea. Then feeling the severity of my critique after this nice man had taken his time and good intentions to make sure his family was cared for, I recanted. “Oh, that was thoughtful. I’m sure someone will eat it.”
It reminded me of the epiphany I had 5 years ago, about the time 19 years ago during my first trip to Brazil to meet my husband’s family that my new sister-in-law threw a turkey leg on my plate while she carefully carved pristine slices of breast meat for everyone else. “She must hate me,” I thought for 14 years until I found out that in Brazil the dark meat is prized and that her intention had been to pay me the highest honor in serving me the best part first.
The problem with telling the above stories is that even I have to say “you are such a fill-in-the-blank” when I acknowledge the underlying feelings of presumed affront.
It was a phrase in the book Art and Upheaval: Artists on the World’s Frontlines by community arts pioneer William Cleveland, however, that has made me come clean. He was talking about Amde Hamilton and Richard Dedeaux, poets and members of the Watts Prophets who have done phenomenal work with youth in LA’s Youth Correctional System starting in the late ‘90’s, saying they were “committed to helping these kids change the way they saw the world and themselves in it.”
While the work they are doing is clearly far more important than yogurt and turkey legs, re-framing how we see ourselves in the world and in relation to others, and embracing our power as partner rather than victim in life is a critical step. Being able to evaluate others’ actions aside from our feelings about them also is a huge step.
With my husband of 20+ years I still sometimes want to extend my hand and say “Hi, I’m Deanna. Have we met?” But for today I will use the exchange as a lesson in intercultural communications and workplace diversity.
- Diversity in the workplace is about behavior. Learn to evaluate others actions as separate from your feelings about them.
- Understanding intentions can make all the difference in the world, either to modify our own perceptions or at least to empathize and understand from where another is coming.
Is there instance in your life that you might re-visit with rose colored lenses? How does your re-interpretation re-frame the conversation? How do you like the new outcome?