15 Mar 2012

The Opposite of Love: Hate or Apathy?

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A couple of friends and I met this morning to quickly get caught up on one another’s lives and careers. We decided to visit a locally owned breakfast haunt known for its selection of authentic water bagels. We were greeted immediately by the open smile and friendly voice of a gentlemen behind the counter. Seeing the confused look on my face, (so many bagels…so little time!), he explained how the bagel selection and preparation process worked. He then took the time to confirm that he completely understood my order. I thought, yes, he sets the example of what the world of customer service should aspire to be!

After well over an hour of being immersed in great conversation, my friends and I had to part ways. Here is the pivot – that moment in time when a simple gesture converges with all of the complexities and experiences which create 7 billion unique human beings on this planet. The man behind the counter saw that we were leaving and said, “You all have a great day!” At the same time, I extended a cheerful thank you to him – still impressed by his hospitality. He repeated his farewell wish to us, and again I was the sole respondent. I then saw what appeared to be a smirk on his face. Hmmmm.

So what? Why did this nanosecond of activity strike me in such a profound way? Consider this…I am an African-American; a black woman. The man behind the counter was a man of color, presumably African American. My two comrades are both white men who happened to not look back and, quite possibly,  may not have heard the young man’s attempts to wish us well – to wish ALL of us well. Maybe this man’s smirk was an unconventional invitation for me to enter his world and to view the outside through his frame of reference. Invitation accepted! My interpretation of the bagel shop owner/manager/worker’s facial expression was one that screamed VALIDATION! The fact that I, who apparently shares the same race or ethnic background with him was the only person to acknowledge his kindness, was his proof positive that the division of race continues to be pronounced. What do you think? (dedra castle)

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