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Each of us has our own unique GPS system... Truth-telling is the most thorough navigation tool.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How Come Nobody Ever Says Anything?

I was in a spinning class again. I'd stayed out of the classes for about five months when a teacher was particularly snarky about the volume control. I'd put my hands up to my ears, motioning that the noise level was too loud. Her reply? "I don't read sign language." Twenty minutes later, I walked out.

But after five months of missing the kind of sweaty workout that is particularly good for my soul, I found the head spinning person at the gym and talked to her about the noise level. She assured me it's not that I'm getting too old or "unhip" to spin. She was out tonight and the 'sub' might have had the switch set to the legal limit, but was raising the volume on her iPod and then screaming above it.

I said something. I moved over to a bike farther from the speaker. While spinning my mind was remembering a recent condo meeting. A renter in the building had been so rude to the renters below him that my favorite couple moved out last Saturday. During the meeting in which the owners of those two condos were trying to get to the bottom of all the emails back and forth, the neighbor who had called me at 1:30 in the morning to ask if I heard the noise downstairs was afraid to complain as I'd heard her complain numerous times in the past 100 days.

The owner who'd lost her renters called me the next day and said, "I'm so glad you were at that meeting. If you hadn't been there, I don't think anyone would have said a word." She hinted that perhaps it was a racial issue. "Maybe everyone was afraid of offending the person in question," she said in her squeaky voice.

I don't know what it is. We complain about things under our breath but rarely take it a step farther to confront the situation head on and try to make it better. If we're rebuffed once, as my neighbor had been by the person in question, we often feel intimidated to speak out again.

Sweating away on the quieter side of the room, getting completely into my ride, I started remembering the concept I'd learned in a Political Psychology class at UC Berkeley. Pluralistic Ignorance. Person A thinks that Person B doesn't care. So Person A acts as if they don't care. Person B reading Person A also thinks they don't care, so they act aloof and uncaring as well. The truth may be that both A & B care very much, but pride or ego or saving face causes behavior that protects self instead of fostering communication or connection.

When the class was over, I was heading over to my bag near the speaker to get my stuff when a pretty brunette spoke to get my attention. "I'm right there with you on the noise issue. It's actually unbearable much of the time." She was a young, perky South African and she spoke with that wonderful accent. "If you bring it up to the head teacher, I'll stand right behind you because I totally agree with you."

I was really glad she'd shared her opinion with me. It showed me two things...
  1. I'm not too un-hip.
  2. By saying my truth it made it safe for another to do so.
As First Lady Michelle Obama said in her address to the graduating seniors of Washington Math and Science Technology Public Charter High School today:

"When you set foot on the soil of whatever campus that has admitted you, understand that you are responsible for your own experiences. So what I want you to do is own your voice. Own it. Don't be intimidated by your new surroundings. Remember, everyone else is in the same position that you're in. Be an engaged and active participant in all of your classes. Never, ever sit in silence, ever. That first day, raise your hand, use your voice, ask a question. Don't be afraid to be wrong, don't be afraid to sound unclear, because understand this is the only way you'll learn." http://twurl.nl/llzxh5

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