I had one of those moments the other day. One of those moments that clarifies the rift between reality and perception. And this time I had the privilege of getting to sit on both sides … at the same time.
Several weeks ago, I met a man while shopping in the hardware store that recently opened in our area. I had shopped there a few times before and this time I was returning to get more keys made. The man that helped me was about my own age and was also a DC native – a rarity these days.
We reminisced about the old days and bygone fixtures of our generation. And we were hitting it off just delightfully. As I paid for my keys, we exchange telephone numbers with the promise of coffee and further conversations.
As I walked out the door, he followed me out. Then it happened, the first anomaly. I turned toward him to say goodbye, and he said something rude and crude. I was in shock. What happened to that wonderful man in the store? Where had my generational and geographical kinsmen gone? In 15 seconds, he had wiped away all the good will and rapport we had built together in the store. What the hell?!!?
He turned and walked cheerfully back into the store as if nothing had happened. He left me a single message in my voice mail, and I have not called him back
When I spoke of the incident with my mentor, he thought maybe the man had interpreted my “tough upbringing” as synonymous with having no boundaries or standards. But that statement was my second anomaly. That was not how the men in my life had ever spoken to me, it was what men yelled out of cars and construction sites; it was the language of sexual harassers everywhere in my experience.
As I recalled, the men of my generation and older were respectful and careful with their language when talking directly to a woman in which they had a serious interest, and quite frankly would watch their language around older women always. So why would anyone think otherwise? Not just to engage in the behavior but to also equate it with *my* “tough upbringing?”
I came head to head with the reality of my upbringing and the perceptions others have of it along with my perceptions of my standing as a middle age woman who grew up hard but made a success out of her life and the reality of what it really meant by today’s standards.
Now clearly that man was just acting inappropriately and Dr. Conforti can only infer what my childhood might have been like by looking back on his own tough upbringing. But there was a message within this moment for me. I needed to reexamine my assumptions about how I presented myself to the world – a reexamination that was long over due.
As I turned this over in my mind, I remembered other time and places where how was treated seemed not only inappropriate but also demeaning in many ways. At the time, I had just filed them under the category of bad experiences.
Clearly I am out of step with some of the realities of today’s world. Because either my story about succeeding against all odds was not working for me, or worse it was even working against me – even though my story was both true, and noteworthy.
So is there something in my story that seems to provide a license for folks to behave badly or worse, to not take me seriously?
Am I contributing to the field of oppression by overemphasizing my source culture while deemphasizing my education, my experience or my skills? And where else might I contribute to a devaluing of my core worth?
And finally, how do my stories inhibit my ability to see the world or myself with anything approaching clarity?
I am going to sit with these questions a while and let it settle within the container of my practice.
But as I ask my students, what stories do you tell yourself? And how do they help or hinder your development and your evolution?