Getting the Delivery Right

I sat down at the bar at a local foodie place to have breakfast and read a book on how to write book proposals. It was a working breakfast. I had a mission. I was completely fine being alone at the bar and eating my food when the guy next to me started up a conversation… “What is the book about?”

I told him and then he asked me what I was writing about. I bluntly said sexual harassment.

The conversation stopped dead. I said it this way because I wanted to eat my eggs in peace and how dare he interrupt my breakfast. Seeing his reaction and knowing I caused hurt, I realized how rude and dismissive that was of me and that he was probably just trying to be friendly. So I tried to make light of things by saying something along the lines of…“Yeah, not a topic that most people want to talk about.” He laughed. I closed my book and we started up a conversation.

As a person just starting out in this writing thing, and knowing that I want to have more conversations with people about their take on dealing with and healing from sexual harassment and retaliation, I took a mental note – make light of  the topic to put people at ease.

To this guy’s credit, he was game and proved to be quite a talker. We explored a few scenarios, which I found really refreshing and eye opening. What I thought was an early morning pick up turned into a rewarding conversation. I was glad I changed my approach.

As we continued to talk, I realized the power of the open dialogue.

In high school, our English teacher had a painting on the wall. For the longest time, all we saw was the polar bear’s profile. But when it was time for him to teach us young adolescents about the literature theme of the fall from innocence, he pointed out that the artist had painted 7 different polar bear profiles into the one big polar bear profile. We could never see the one polar bear again. It was a gentle, yet profound way to help us innocents understand the lesson with a “fall” that wasn’t so scarring.

This spontaneous, light-hearted breakfast discussion was turning into a ‘fall from innocence’ conversation for my new friend.

He expressed to me that there was a woman that he worked with that he used to light-heartedly call “Babe” around the office. He liked to do this and she did not seem to mind it. At least, she never said anything. Then, when her husband came into the office one day, my new breakfast friend found himself in the middle of calling her “Babe” and then caught himself short. He confessed to me that he just couldn’t do it in front of her husband.

I am not sure that he ever told anyone about this before he shared this story with me. And, from his verbal hesitations during his reflections and revelations, I got the impression that something within him was changing as we were talking.

Perhaps he was gently realizing that he could not behave in the office the same way he had been before. Perhaps he was gently realizing that in his new job, he had the opportunity to change the way he interacted with the women around him, and be more respectful toward them. Or perhaps around just this woman.

We parted breakfast as fellow travelers. He wished me well in the book writing. Though I did not set out to impact this man’s work habits over a breakfast conversation, I took heart in the possibility that our conversation might just have made a difference for him and the people he works with.

I became more resolved in my journey to help us all reflect on our delivery and how to get it right with each other.


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