By Troy Headrick
I pride myself on being someone who wants to have new experiences, meet interesting people, grow intellectually and spiritually, and expand my horizons in the process.
Having said all that, I want to share a story with you about how recently meeting a very special person has had such a wonderfully positive effect on my life. Not long ago, I befriended “Jessica”–that’s not her real name–a person who’d been coming into the writing center I manage at Palo Alto College. Jessica is perhaps in her late 40s, maybe early 50s. Up until recently, Jessica was a male, at least that was the gender she’d been assigned at birth. In addition to her helping me learn all sorts of new things about many subjects, I’m also pleased that she has signed up to participate in my COME AS YOU ARE program, one I’ve written about here.
When I first met Jessica, I made many faux pas when speaking with her. I have this bad habit, probably at least partly related to the time period when I grew up, saying things like, “Hey, man” to her as soon as she’d enter our writing center. I would then bite my tongue and feel terrible about not being more careful when speaking to her. I didn’t mean “man” when I called her “man”; using that word is something I grew up saying (way too casually and carelessly as I now realize). So, it just popped out of my mouth and I felt terrible I hadn’t been more careful when speaking with her.
Then, one day, without thinking about what was about to pop out of my mouth, I said, “Hey, dude, how’s it going?” as soon as Jessica stepped into the lab. She answered, very politely, “Good, and you?” I immediately pulled her to the side, making sure that we could speak without anyone overhearing us, and apologized profusely to her. I even told her, right near the end of my apology, “I am so terribly sorry. I like you so much and I want to speak to you the way you want to be spoken to, but I blow it every time I open my mouth.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she graciously told me, smiling broadly. “I know I’m somewhat unusual, and I know your heart. You are a good person, and I feel fine talking with you no matter what words you use.”
Meeting Jessica was one of the greatest things that has happened to me in recent months. I’ll be quite honest with you; I don’t think I’d ever talked with a person in the Trans community before I’d spoken with Jessica. I had always considered myself very hip, but I certainly learned that I needed to be more careful and sensitive in the way I was using language. In other words, I had been a nitwit almost every time we’d spoken. And rather than being offended, she had always very graciously overlooked the fact that I kept sticking my foot in my mouth. The good news is, Jessica has been such a good teacher that I’m progressing very rapidly as her student.
More of us need to look for opportunities to meet and interact with people we don’t normally associate with. Christians need to take the chance to befriend Muslims. Progressives need to sit down and try to have a conversation with conservatives. Atheists and agnostics need to get to know the religious. Those people we don’t normally socialize with are those we most need to try to get to know. Otherwise, we’ll continue to live our insular, little lives and will remain tribal in our outlook.
I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to get to know the kind of people you don’t normally interacted with. If you have had a similar experience to the one I’ve described here, why not share it with everyone? I’d love to hear lots of stories of this sort!
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.