Near my cube world last week, someone mentioned "towel heads" under his breath to his nearest cube neighbor(s). It was over a wall from me, and I felt uncertain about whether to say anything. Just a few days prior with one of his cube neighbors, I'd discussed feeling uncomfortable about a joke that associated football fandom and abused wives. (I laughed because it was funny and my insides also cringed because it made light of abused wives.) Gah. I didn't want to be that stereotype of a lady who "polices" everything, "eavesdrops," or "ruins the fun." (Gosh, those stereotypes are scary for me. Rule enforcer-stereotypes make me want to stay quiet. Hm.) And still... it's so inappropriate to use the term towel head. The slur is derisive and intolerant. The turban is a symbol of love and commitment, as I learned in this article about why Sikhs wear turbans by the Sikh Coalition. The article explains how Sikhism developed as a response to social injustice. Mental note: Discuss racial slur with that individual either in private or in front of his cube group.
Now to choose whether group or private conversation is best. Sometimes these decisions aren't possible until the very moment in which I face the conflict. Like with that abused wife and football comment, I discussed it in front of the group on the very same day it happened. I'm considering a private discussion with this other guy. I don't want to threaten his job (I think that if my manager overhears me say this guy used a racial slur, he could write him up for contributing to a hostile work environment).
Actually, Frank Sinatra inspired me toward discussion with racial slur guy. Yesterday would have been Sinatra's 100th birthday. A radio station played a song in which Sinatra spoke frankly with his listeners. He encouraged people to put out brush fires of racial intolerance. Thank you, Sinatra. I'm glad you shared your views of acceptance. Some say his career took a dive after he started speaking out against racism. Gosh. Respect, man. Speaking against racism can be a challenge for anyone, even a powerful Caucasian vocal legend! I found more inspiration to voice opposition to racism in this article about racism in schools from ehow contributor Mary Dowd. She paraphrases a 2012 statement from the National Association of School Psychologists,
When racial slurs, stereotypes, discrimination and prejudice permeate a school, everyone is affected, but particularly students from historically oppressed racial groups... Subtle and overt forms of racism can create a hostile environment that’s characterized by racial slurs, bullying and segregation by race, as described in "Leading for Diversity: How School Leaders Promote Positive Interethnic Relations." Tension can escalate, resulting in hate crimes or physical assaults between students from different backgrounds. A stressful environment heightens anxiety and detracts from learning.
My mind jumped from racism in schools to racism in the workplace. Heightened anxiety detracts from focus. Naturally I'm sitting there and I'm alert to the racism enough to want to address it. I imagine my Caucasian male cubemate in his late 40s/early 50s would write this off with an, "I don't eavesdrop." He's quite limited with his acceptance of human nature, as far as I can tell. Eavesdrop is when you're trying to listen to people. It's not eavesdrop when you exist and others speak and you hear it. That's called existing as a human with hearing faculties. Ok, so my cubemate writes off confrontation by utilizing "I don't eavesdrop" as an reason-excuse to not address the issue. That seems like avoidance to me. No way do I want to avoid this issue, and yet... it's important to discuss it in a way that the receiving party can hear and absorb. I look at it like I'd rather offer connection through education than anger or vengeance.
In other work news, my manager said he doesn't want me to be blunt with customers, and I think what he's really saying is try to avoid offense in the customer. I've learned how to phrase my blunt thoughts, in some cases. I choose when to speak them and how. Truthfully, I think the idea is not to quell the blunt thoughts but rather find ways to share them that feel comfortable for all parties. Sometimes the comfortable won't be possible. In that case, I think blunt is preferable to silent. Speak up rather than don't speak at all.
Ok, maybe blunt happens and people feel offense. Talk through that offense. Learn a new way to share a thought. The solution isn't to quit communication because one person feels offended. The solution is to keep talking until people feel mutually complete with the conversation. (Well, that's the solution when parties are able to hold conversations. If either party feels it particularly deleterious to engage in communication, then it's not a good route to choose.) Sometimes other people aren't able or willing to share when they feel offended. Like my former friend Blue Sky. (I talk about that relationship in the post at this link.) In this case, the other person may project his or her offense onto your actions a la, "You said something that offended me," rather than accept personal responsibility a la, "I felt offense after you said [insert words]." Personalities in this category do not address conflict as much as obliterate or ignore it. They likely deny the feelings because it hurts to feel them. If they can put them off on you, they don't have to feel them. Easy, peasy, huh? Nah. It simply prolongs discomfort.
I used to think of conflict resolution as a one-time discussion with a beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes that's the definition, and really, what I'm finding more is that it's an ongoing conversation.
1/9/16 - Edited.
Well hello there.