The phone rang in amidst hours of meetings, almost as if it had waited until I had a free moment. I answered, expecting to hear Joe's voice, when instead I heard a small and somewhat frightened voice. After a few seconds of explanation, I understood that I was speaking to the woman who had spoken to me in the hallway, the woman who was the subject of yesterday's post. Suddenly, I felt the deep need to apologize, somehow, and I spluttered about for a moment, when she indicated that she'd simply like to say something.
She was not angered by my post, she explained, she had expected it. She said her "ranting" about me and my lectures was due to her embarrassment about her behaviour and the horrible sense that she'd had at being "caught" at her worst. She didn't blame me for writing what I wrote, she said that she'd read it over and over again and stopped only when she feared she was becoming obsessed by it. She had not had the courage to read the comments and thought that maybe she never would. It had taken her a little while to find out where I worked, then find the number and then work up the courage to call. "I wanted to apologize again," she said.
We had a long talk and I wanted to assure her that I meant what I said in the post. That I find, as much as I lecture about 'respectful approaches' and as much as I write about 'respectful treatment' ... I find myself lacking in moments when the "hierarchy" gets the best of me and thus the person experiences the worst of me. That I am guilty of "the tone that belittles" and the "attitude that diminishes" more often than I like to admit. I tried, I said, in my post, to reflect that her behaviour reflected badly on her but it also caused me to reflect, honestly about my own.
I don't think we ever get to a "moment of enlightenment" wherein, henceforth, we become consistently respectful of others, constantly regarding all as equals and uncommonly welcoming to all. I believe that our actions will always be moment by moment decisions about how we choose to exercise our sense of power or how we choose to react to our sense of powerlessness. From my interactions with bank tellers, to my interactions with my staff, to my interactions with my supervisors - every encounter is laced with decisions and every encounter is fraught with the danger that I will either misuse my power or submit to my powerlessness. I long ago, began to see that I had to think in the moment, every moment, both of what was being said and what was going on.
You've heard how parents sometimes speak to children.
You've heard how supervisors sometimes speak to staff.
My father once told me, when thinking I'd marry a woman: Watch how she treats waiters, that will tell you everything you need to know about her character. I didn't understand then, as I understand now, the wisdom of that advice. (Joe treats wait staff with great respect.)
There is something in every dynamic that can bring out the worst in every one of us.
We talked about all of this. What she did and how she did it was horrible. What she did with what she did was responsible. She thought about it, understood how her mood at the moment, her frustration at the position of my chair, and the power that is presumed between the able and the disabled - led her to behave horribly. She was, she said, kind of glad to have been caught, kind of glad to be so powerfully reminded of who she can become if she isn't on guard. I told her that her phone call meant a lot to me. That I appreciated the time and effort she took to reach out to me. I also appreciated the fact that she didn't either deny or try to explain away what she had done - she took responsibility and determined that she would learn from it.
She asked if I was going to blog about the conversation. I told her that, as this had been a personal conversation between two people, I wouldn't without her permission.
Hanging up the phone, I continued on, probably more carefully and thoughtfully, into my day.