Thanks to my Dad’s amazing social skills, I’ve never had a problem talking to ‘strangers‘. I don’t even know if I’ve ever met a stranger.
It’s easy for me to talk with people face to face because they supply me with all I need to know about them through their facial expressions, body language, clothes, and whatever else kindof clue I can spot that tells me who they are, what they care about and how they like to be treated. When I talk to someone, my goal is to mirror all the potential I see in them back at them. Somehow, this has made me extremely lovable – what people don’t realize is, it’s not me they love, it’s the reflection of themselves.
To say I overlook any negatives about a person is probably an understatement – but also a bit inaccurate. I look deeply into ‘flaws’ and negatives about a person and investigate why they’re there and how it contributes to that person’s identity.
For example, recently a friend and I were exploring Annapolis together and ventured into this Antique Bookstore. As we were leaving, we saw a book with a cowboy knitting a sweater on horseback. We thought it was so funny that we had to take a picture of it. We were pretty close to the checkout counter, and as we were giggling we heard a very stern German accent come from that direction:
“What do you think is so funny?”
We looked around half realizing there was someone even sitting at the desk who had been watching us the whole time.
“What are you laughing about?? What is funny?” She repeated, sounding obviously irritated.
I made eye contact with her, looked at my shrinking friend, and then decided to take action and involve her in our “treasure hunt” (<to be explained in a later post)
I grabbed the book and took wide steps over to her saying, “It’s this picture, don’t you think it’s funny?”
Now, since I lived in Germany for 4 years and been in love with Germany and German culture since I was 14, I already had a bit more insight than the average Joe. Germans are unapologetically straightforward and have a Very Distinct sense of humor. They love to be challenged. (I know I’m speaking in general terms and that there are exceptions to the rule, but… deal with it.)
She looked at me grimly above her glasses, and said, “No, I do not think it’s funny. Why would it be funny that a man is knitting on a horse? What else is there to do back then?”
Sensing my friend beside me growing all the more nervous, I grinned, “Well, I guess you have a point. They didn’t have phones back then.”
My joke went unnoticed and I had unknowingly stepped on a gender stereotype nerve with her where she had become irritated to young girls coming in and making fun of Men knitting. I listened to her as she very passionately spoke about how men have every right to knit and shouldn’t be laughed at because that only promotes the stereotype of “Men Shouldn’t Knit”.
Somehow, the energy shifted, she lightened up and said, “There are lots of books about men knitting, and I’ll show you one that IS funny…” She stood up from her desk and walked around towards the shelf. As she did, I was still smirking a bit and gently touched her shoulder, “But you have to admit, this picture is a little funny.” she grinned while walking, “Okay, yes, it is a little funny.”
We ended up staying there for I’m guessing a good 20 minutes talking with her about stereotypes, being independent, dogs, military life, and just enjoying each other’s company.
Her message was, “When you see someone doing something you think is wrong, like promoting negative stereotypes, you should approach them and challenge their thinking. Nothing will change if we don’t do this. Have an open conversation, don’t argue, but try to understand.” Which, is right on with what I believed and exactly how I talked with her. I respected her opinions and tried to understand what was happening rather than running away in fear or getting angry.
I like to think this interaction inspired both of us and gave us an even warmer spot in our heart for people we don’t immediately understand.