I participated in the inaugural Salon 360° virtual meeting where 50+ people from around the globe came together to discuss race. Yowsers.
I was humbled by the knowledge and experience in the “Zoom.” People with diverse backgrounds and perspectives came together to discuss what we, as individuals and as communities, can do to help heal our country – nay, our world, as this was an international group. I had a couple of takeaways, as well as an idea that hit me as I was reflecting. Let me share the takeaways first.
My small group of six talked a lot about wanting to know more. Everyone was so willing to open up, to be vulnerable with tales of their own enlightenment. That was my first takeaway – there is hope.
That is also my second takeaway. My group also talked about staying positive, even in the face of those who just won’t participate no matter how sincerely you want to start the dialogue. That’s more difficult for me.
I find myself more and more cynical and acerbic. But I will try to be more careful because that cynicism may show as I’m trying to start the dialogue.
On to my epiphany. It starts with a story. I was a female Marine in the 1970s, and am married to a retired Marine. We both wear Marine Corps “stuff.” People generally stop my husband, say “Semper Fi,” and shake his hand. My husband is quick to tell them that I was a Marine as well. That generally gets a raised eyebrow which quickly melts into a look of incredulity or a look that says, “Oh, cool!”
Every so often, generally with older, retired Marines, they’ll say something like, “Oh, you were a Woman Marine,” or worse, you were a “BAM.” Over the decades since I left the Corps, women have shed the name “women Marine” and become Marines. To refer to today’s females in the Marine Corps as anything else is an insult of the greatest magnitude. In a nutshell, it meant we weren’t “real” Marines.
I have begun to recognize that I automatically expect that the introduction of me as a Marine will generate the eye roll, or a leer, as they say, “Oh, you were a BAM,” thinking themselves clever. My claws usually are poised.
A few weeks ago we passed a young man in a Marine Corps shirt. He saw my husband and said, “Semper Fi,” so we went over to talk with him My sweet husband was quick to say I was a Marine also, and the young guy had an unusual reaction. He was honestly surprised to meet a female Marine and said, “I never had a chance to meet a Woman Marine when I was in.”
Well, that was certainly a nice thing to say – a chance to meet a female Marine. It doesn’t matter that he used the outdated and slightly demeaning term Woman Marine – there was a sincerity in his comment that made me pull back in my claws and talk a bit about what it was like to be a female Marine. I didn’t even bother to correct him.
I teach my clients to adopt a mantra of “assume positive intent.” So much communication goes awry because the listener is assuming what is coming, rather than listening and asking what is really in the other person’s mind. This simple statement has made a difference for my clients.
But perhaps the teacher needs a lesson in “assuming positive intent.”
So what I take from the Salon 360° Zoom gathering is this….I have become too angry, too cynical, and too quick to assume where someone may be coming from. I think I do a good job of asking questions to sincerely learn, but I can always do better.
Seeing the hope in the “Zoom” yesterday and recognizing that I have to work to assume positive intent may open some dialogues that may otherwise not have presented themselves.