Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Change Happens

My eldest son, Brendan, works as a manager of a fast food restaurant. And he tells me stories. This is a small story, but it gave me hope for our shared world.

About a month ago, Brendan walked into the restaurant and noticed that two of the young women working on the counter were huddled together whispering and looking upset. When he asked them what was going on, they told him that a male customer had just told them he wanted to pay them to have sex with him. They pointed the man out- he was sitting at a table nearby with his coffee.

Brendan went over to the man and started to chat, asking him how he was doing. The man, no doubt wondering why the manager of the place was talking to him, asked, “What’s going on?”

Brendan replied, “Well it sounds like you said something completely inappropriate to a couple of the staff.”

Instantly, the man got to his feet, walked over to the counter and started asking, “Who said I said something inappropriate? That’s a lie!” glaring at the staff standing behind the counter.

“He was pretty convincing- so indignant,” Brendan told me, “I really started to wonder.”

“Wonder what?” I asked.

“Oh I never doubted that the women were telling the truth- but I wondered if I‘d walked over to the wrong guy. But I didn’t have to wonder long.”

Before any of the women could reply, one of the young men behind the counter stepped forward. “Nope,” he said. “They (meaning the women) don’t need to identify themselves because I witnessed what you did. I heard you tell them you wanted to pay them for sex.”

The man left.

Now the timing of this incident is was what intrigued me. In early December, much of the country had been involved in conversations about the stories of sexual assault involving a popular radio host. Social media sites were buzzing- and in the beginning the most asked question was: If they are telling the truth, why hadn’t these women laid charges? (Charges have now been laid.) That question lead to thousands of women sharing their stories about being raped, about not being believed, about the horrors of going through a trial and dozens of other reasons why (for some of us) it often didn’t even occur to women to report an assault.

And something surprising happened: people who had taken a pretty firm stance, changed their position, got that it was not simple, understood that although there had been some good changes in the law, the culture- the ways in which women who report rape were viewed and treated- had not changed.

I asked my son if he thought the young man’s choice to step forward and speak up with such speed had been influenced by these recent public conversations.

And Brendan said, “Well, it might have. If it did, it would be because the stories we've been hearing tell us how this kind of stuff impacts women. Most guys, unless they were particularly homophobic, would just brush off a comment like the one this guy said to the women. They’d tell him to get lost or just ignore him and figure he was a jerk. But the stories that have been shared- just the sheer volume of them- highlight that our experience (as men) is not the same as women’s, so something like this can have a much bigger impact on a woman than it would have on most of the men I know. If we get that, we- the vast majority of men who never assault a woman- are going to step up fast, like this guy did, in a situation where a man is doing something that is understandably disturbing to a woman."

Listening helps us get how similar and how different we are, helps us "get" that we do not know what it is like for the other who is of a different gender, skin colour, class, culture, sexual orientation etc. 

Because this is the paradoxical truth of our inter-beingness: We are all One, made of the same sacred stuff and participating in a Sacred Wholeness that is both what we are and larger than us all AND each other is wholly other, a mystery to me, someone with a different experience, history, and perspective than my own.

If we know the truth of the first part of this paradox- that we are One- we do not create artificial separations, we extend ourselves, seek connection and welcome each other as another myself.

If we know the truth of the second part of this paradox- that each has his or her own experience that is not identical to our own- we approach the other with an open heart and receptive mind, ready to listen deeply to how it is for them, ready to let what we hear change us and shape our actions. 

That's how we make change- together.

Oriah (c) 2015

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