This discomfort fell into my lap. It wasn’t planned. But I decided to challenge myself by taking risks with my reactions to a stranger.
I spent yesterday co-working with my friend Miriam at Whole Foods. Seated near us, a woman complained audibly about the temperature of her pizza.
She took her pizza back to the pizza station. On her return, I asked if they warmed it up. She misinterpreted the interaction and yelled at me for laughing at her. I tried to calm her down.
The situation escalated quickly. “Mind your own business you fucking bitch!” As I kept reassuring her that I didn’t mean to upset her, she repeatedly called me a fucking bitch. I wanted to get her to see everything was ok, but to no avail.
She turned back to her food muttering, “fucking bitch.”
The interaction was so shocking that I cried a little. Even though I realized the lady was abnormally paranoid, the situation still startled me. And I was disappointed in myself for being unable to calm her.
Taking A Different Approach
I got up to get a tissue for my tears. As I passed her, she called me a fucking bitch again. Instead of hiding in shame, I took an unusual path: I looked at her and I said, “You made me cry.”
I went back to work. The woman had a pleasant conversation with a stranger. I was jealous of the stranger.
Some time passed.
I went to get a snack.
When I came back with my snack, Miriam said, look at your Facebook messages. Miriam sent me a breakdown of what happened while I left the table. The lady harassed Miriam for being a lesbian with me. We aren’t lesbians together, but it just so happens that Miriam is a lesbian.
Time To Take Her Down
The woman engaged with us once again. Now that I was calm I decided to continue to try an unusual approach.
I said, “I was trying to be friends with you and you were mean to me.” I think this surprised her.
She voiced her disapproval in my lesbianism.
I asked her what was wrong with being a lesbian. She explained that God disapproves of it and it’s not right. It’s why we’re having so many floods, she explained. I replied that she might be right, there’s no way to know. I was beginning to disarm her.
She said she believes in a higher power. I said I do too.
She said god says that it’s not right to be gay. I responded that there are a lot of religious texts and even more interpretations, so there’s no way to know if what we’re doing is against God. But, I emphasized, she might be right and that I really didn’t know. The woman still had an air of disapproval, but she was significantly more calm.
“I’m sorry if I inconvenienced you,” I said in reference to my lesbianism possibly causing floods.
And- to my shock- the woman, unprompted, extended her hand to me. A peace offering! I couldn’t believe I turned the situation around! We shook hands. I did it!
What I Learned
Normally, I would have ignored the woman from the beginning. Instead, I continued to engage with her until I got it right. I knew it didn’t matter what this woman thought of me. But, I value people skills, so I was glad I pushed through and learned something.
Though I wish I didn’t cry, I embraced the truth that I did cry. It was embarrassing but it happened. The only way to get stronger is to acknowledge our weak points.
In fact, I embraced my tears so much that I showed the woman. I discarded my ego. It wasn’t important how strong I came off. I just wanted to get through to the woman. I wanted her to see that her actions affect people.
When the woman called me a crazy bitch I felt attacked. Emotional, I wasn’t able to get a good view of the situation. Conversely, when she called me a lesbian, I knew that wasn’t true. This had an interesting effect on me. It depersonalized the situation, as if I was watching the woman interact with someone else.
As a result, my emotions were removed. The path to the best actions became clearer. And my relaxed demeanor softened the woman.
I wasn’t trying to change her opinion. My only goal was to give her a sense that we weren’t enemies. In the end I got her to accept me, despite her disapproval of my perceived lifestyle.
I hope that I could approach the situation similarly if the woman did disapprove of who I truly am. This might be something I want to test in the future. I’m Jewish so maybe I could meet with a Nazi, but man that sounds scary! Anyways, if you know any Nazis send them my way.
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