October 3, 2017

Smooth Sailing?

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Smooth Sailing. My alarm does its thing this morning at 5:45 am. Loving that coffee pot timer that has already done its thing and filled the house with the aroma of Starbucks Morning Joe. Enjoyed a peaceful warm yummy cup, since Mom was nice enough to take the dogs last night until I return tomorrow.

Smooth Sailing. Showered…dressed…and in the car and off to Hartsfield Atlanta Airport by 6:30 am. No traffic, if you can believe that…in ATLANTA. It keeps on being a smooth sailing morning with a great parking space and shuttle to pick me up, like clockwork.

Smooth Sailing. I love CLEAR: two fingers down on the piece of glass, scan my boarding pass and shuttled to the front of the TSA Pre-Check line.

Smooth Sailing.

My sailboat is ready to crash, and this is hard to write. I wasn’t going to write it. I didn’t want to even think about it. But I have to. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. I’d love to pretend that this stuff only happens to others, to people who attend our unconscious bias training classes. But this is ME.

I chose a luggage X-ray line from the 3 available. I waited…kept waiting…for a spot to open in the new conveyor belt/grab a bin/put stuff in bin/push bin forward into an open spot system that Hartsfield is using.

I timed my push between two bins moving on the moving conveyer belt and when I did, created a jam. The TSA agent pushed my bin back and said, “I just announced to wait for me to tell you when to push your bin.”

I said, “Sorry!”

The black woman who had admonished me then said, “No you’re not.”

My sailboat crashed.

I said, “OH!

Just one word, but if you could have heard my inflection, my righteous indignation, my mental vibration that was behind that one word, this is what you would have intuited.

How dare you! Who are you to scold me? Who do you think you are? I’m the customer, the Diamond Medallion, Two Million Miler. If you were really doing your job you would have managed the flow of this line much better and I would not have had to wait 60 seconds to get a spot with a bin to go through this stupid system.

Yes. If you could have recorded my thoughts that burst from my brain in that split second response, all of that was contained in my “OH!

AND…her gender and color were in the formula too…OF COURSE…because they always are. My fast burst of superiority did include a fast and, usually, unexamined racial and gender based positioning on the ladder of societal pecking order.

Have I said this is hard to type? I’m carefully choosing each word now, unlike when I was engaging with the TSA Agent.

I can acknowledge what my ego/(me) blurted out this morning when a women doing her job decided to let me know that she didn’t think I was sorry; that I intentionally was rushing and being, perhaps, inconsiderate and pushy/entitled. Its much harder for me to acknowledge, that, on analysis now, sitting in my upgraded seat flying to NYC that I know my reaction would have been different if she was male and/or she was white. It’s impossible for me, right now, to play it out in my mind exactly to know what my reaction would be, but I know it would be different.

In that moment of her scolding of me, I looked down on her. I converted my slight shame of being “busted” for being pushy into a lightening fast judgment of her job, her authority and of HER…her humanity. That’s so hard to acknowledge.

My fingers are freezing up between each sentence.

I’m ashamed that my embedded privilege and nearly-always-unacknowledged-white-male-sense of superiority came flooding out of me in that moment of truth…that moment when my smooth sailing day was interrupted by a woman calling me on my obvious rude behavior.

And, I’ve been educating our workshop participants for over 3 years now that, it’s natural. To be human is to be biased. We see the world through a set of lenses that are uniquely ours, developed by our life journey, our background. We make sense of the world through pattern recognition. If we are not mindful, our conditioned patterns of implicitly biased associations, learned from our families, media, stereotypes and significant emotional events….our reptilian or “fast”/automatic pilot part of our brain pushes out a reaction and we say, “OH!”….or worse…when a black woman at the airport calls us out for not following instructions.

Or fill in the blank on what the incident is:

*a woman speaks confidently about her accomplishments in an job interview

*a person with a “thick” accent speaks up with an idea in the meeting

*a person of a different ethnicity moves into your lane without signaling or waiting their turn when you’re in a hurry

*a younger person keeps looking at their device during the meeting you’re running

Humans are biased. From those biases, we project assumptions, judgments and even characteristics onto others, often with little or no knowledge about that person’s motives, story, values, morals…or consideration of their humanity. (There’s that word again.)

Humanity. That’s the word I’m going to focus on today now that I’ve taken the time to write this down. For a few seconds, I forgot that word during my peaceful, smooth sailing morning. If I could replay it, I would said: “I need to slow down, I’m sorry.” Or “ Thank you. I apologize, I wasn’t listening to your announcement.” I would have smiled and sent her love for a smooth sailing day of her own.

A tip from our workshop is to catch yourself in the act of judging, projecting or taking a superior position toward someone who is “different” and THEN tell someone you trust what you did. The teacher is still very much a student. Thanks for reading my story if you made it this far.

A man opened fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas as if they were soda cans on a country fence,  two days ago. I feel angry, helpless, and deeply sad, if I allow myself to think about it long enough. I condemn violence. We need more love and compassion.

I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world and carry the TSA agent’s face in my mind today as a reminder that SMOOTH SAILING is my wish for every human on the planet.