I was midway through a class to gain a state recognized certification. The area was familiar to me.
We were uptown near 116th St and Park Avenue to be exact. I used to go here when I was different person and for a much different reasons. However, times have changed for the better and so has the neighborhood. I was attending a school to achieve something and better myself, which, in fairness, years back, I used to go to 116th to better myself too.
Only, now my intentions have changed. My reason for taking this class was to help people get away from the same reason I used to go the spot up on the corner.
My accreditation was to become a Certified Recovery Advocate, which is one of my coaching specialties.
The idea of this class is not only to certify, but also educate the student on a true sense of self. We talked about prejudice and biases. We talked about the struggles we would have if our clients were of a different race or sexual orientation.
In fairness, I was the only person with white skin in the room, in which case, I knew the subject of diversity would be an interesting topic.
I knew that racism was going to be a topic—and racist or not, consciously biased or not, the truth is everyone has their biases.
Everyone knows what judgment is; whether this is based on the lessons and experiences of our lives or handed down to us through programmed teachings, which, (of course are inaccurate, but hey, ignorance is the gift that keeps on giving) either way, our biases and opinions can hold us back from being a better professional.
When the subject of racism came up, although all sides were not equal nor was everyone willing to listen to each other—the truth is, shame is shame, hate is hate, and pain is pain, regardless to the color of our skin, our political views, or sexual orientation, we all know what it means to feel.
We discussed culture competence, which is to be diversified enough as a specialist that we can adapt to any client in any way, regardless to what the client’s conditions might be
This goes beyond just race or religion. Discrimination is not limited to just race. There is age discrimination.
Or say, what would it be like for you to sit in the room with a sex offender and have to be able to keep an open mind?
This was an actual example used in my class.
What if the person is a thief? What if the client is sick with cancer or AIDS or, what if the client had some kind of physical disfiguration? And what if the client had all of the above and more to effect every bias we have?
Meanwhile, the client with all the above is sat down in front of you. You are acting as a specialist. Your job is to be an advocate for this person, regardless of gender, regardless of the client’s past or present situation, and even regardless to willingness —as the specialist, your job is to be culturally competent, unbiased, and able to operate your position without judgement.
Of course this example is more deliberate than say, the new hire in acquisitions that comes from someplace, like say, Bhagalpur, India.
The above example is no less different than say, Nina, who heads into the Northeast staircase to kneel and face Mecca to pray, every hour, on the hour.
This is no different from Carl who has to go outside every 20-30 minutes to smoke a cigarette, which takes him away from his work, but hey, a habit is a habit and practice is a practice. People are people and regardless to similarities, we are all different and come from different backgrounds.
We are all different in our own way, which is not something to shy away from. This is fine. In fact, I think this is what keeps us all beautiful. We need difference. As I see it, we all have the right to be unique.
You are you and I am me. Together, we are all a diverse mix.
However, unfortunately, stigma is very real.
Ignorance is equally as real and equally as damaging.
Our intentions, although perhaps we are being lighthearted, still, might not always match the interpretations of someone else.
My words might be inoffensive to me because I was raised a certain way or accept jokes differently. On the other hand, something funny to me might be offensive to someone else.
I understand that yes, literally anyone and everyone can find something offensive these days. And I think we need to point this out.
I think to engage in better workplace relationships, we need to address the tension. Otherwise, we run the risk of further damage amongst workplace morale.
For example, there was a man named Frank that used to work at my same address. Frank worked on the 17th Floor. He enjoyed racial jokes. He liked to tell jokes about black people and Jews and Muslims and homosexuals. Frank picked on everyone and he was not shy about this.
To him, this was funny. To me, the joke I heard him tell was not funny. I did not mention my opinion. Instead, I simply didn’t laugh. My co-worker tried to disarm the argument when he noticed my silence; however, Frank was not happy that I did not accept the joke.
Instead of owning this as a mistake or seeing this humor as inappropriate, Frank went off. I did not react in either direction. I simply asked to be left out of Frank’s humor, to which he physically grabbed me by my arm.
I was not worried about him. Frank was not a physical threat to me. In fairness, he was 76 years-old and not in the same physical shape as me.
I felt his strength was less than something threatening, but still Frank was physically threatening me.
And what did I do?
I did what any responsible employee would do. I walked away. Quickly, I might add.
Frank followed me. I escaped in an elevator and went to a different floor. I went to a different side of the building in a different elevator bank to close myself in a room and stay away from the altercation.
And yes, I advised my supervisor. I advised the security in the building. I relocated myself and guess what. Frank came to find me!
He was screaming at the door and shouting to challenge me to a fist fight.
Now, in full disclosure, I would be less than honest if I didn’t explain that I was angry. I would also be less than honest if I did not admit to the idea of expressing myself to Frank.
I am a man in recovery with nearly 29 years of sobriety. I am a Certified Professional Life Coach. I am a Recovery Coach. I am a Certified Hypnotist. I work with several different wellness models to overcome depression and anxiety. My object is to focus on mental wellness in life; however, I am also human.
In fairness, the idea to respond or introduce a different version of me to frank was a lose/lose situation.
If I defend myself and physically achieve dominance, then I beat up a 76 year-old man. Or, adversely, if I defend myself and lose then, well, I got beat up by a 76 year-old man. Lose/lose because additionally, I would also risk losing my position at work.
Instead of responding, I decided to make better business sense and stay away.
I filled out a report. I advised my supervisors that I cannot be near this situation and that for my safety; I will not interact with Frank in any matter pertaining to work or otherwise.
Sad to say, there was a little bit of push-back and obviously competence was not a lesson shared with some of my supervisors.
It was Frank’s contention that the problem with our country is no one can joke anymore. He charged, “Everyone takes things too seriously,” which perhaps (and although I hate to agree with frank on any level) this could be true. We live in different times with different people that underwent different backgrounds. That being said, however, I am still not sure how Frank’s humor is funny—especially when he was degrading an entire race of people and likening his humor to “The better times” of the Holocaust.
Culture competence is crucial to fluidity in the workplace. I had to learn that like it or not, I do not have the right to dictate what people do or do not find offensive. I had to learn how to keep my lightheartedness on a neutral keel.
The truth is work is work. We are there to earn a living; however, the truth is we also spend more time at work then we do at home, which means it pays to learn how to have a sense of lightheartedness and enjoy the day; otherwise, put simply, we end up angry like my old pal Frank.
Life does not and should not have to be so serious all the time; however, we do need to be mindful that not everyone shares the same humor.
Sarcasm is like a second language to most people. I can say that I am fluent in this language as well; however, I have learned through experience that there are better ways to be funny and kinder methods to have longer lasting fun.
We need to address the tension. We need to recognize that bullying is not the same as it used to be on the playground.
Bullying comes in different shapes and sizes now and it hits from different angles. That being mentioned, the motivation and reasoning is still the same as it was when we were kids in the schoolyard.
Our behavior and treatment of others stems from self.
Sarcasm is bullying too. Jokes go too far. This can be offensive, especially when violating certain boundaries of sex or sexual suggestions. At no point does it make better business sense to joke about someone’s family or significant other nor does it make good working sense to bring discomfort to another co-worker
Unfortunately, this happens. This happens often, in fact, and there are documented cases, which of course, most people in the management levels of the corporate world would like to keep this hush, hush.
The fact remains that once a boundary has been crossed it can never be uncrossed. This is not to say that people cannot or will not improve. Not at all; however, in spite of efforts and improvement and regardless to penance, the degradation still exists on both sides.
To improve my competency, I chose to reject my previous ways and ideas and learned to open my eyes to a life outside of my own. I had to realize the need for a change in me and the way I interact with others. Put simply, I took the time to learn more about culture competency. And believe me; it was worth it
Relationships can be repaired and wrongs can be amended; however, the violation of a crossed boundary still exists. Therefore, to move forward, I learned to improve my boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.
I have seen executives try to repeatedly apologize for their infractions against lower level employees, which, essentially, an apology is no longer an apology after a while.
Instead, the repetition of the apology is more like a means of manipulation. This is to make the problem go away. An apology can easily switch from being wholehearted to a means of alleviating the fear of any further action regarding their violation.
The truth is this; violating someone’s boundaries is degrading. In order to form a more professional bond between me and my co-workers and to reach my best level of achievements; I had to learn more about this.
I say this from a personal perspective with hopes the idea might become contagious and furthermore helpful to others.
In fairness, we all have to learn that others have boundaries and ideas and opinions. There are subjects that do not belong in the workplace.
And will they come up? Yes, of course they will.
However, I had to invite myself to see the other side of things. I had to learn more about inclusion and diversity. In fact, the fact that we need to have special inclusion and diversity groups in the workplace is already a strong statement alone.
I have revamped my professional self over the past few years. To do this and be successful, I had to learn more about me.
I had to learn more about my social biases. I had to address how this prevents me from reaching the next best level, in which, during my efforts of professional development; as a result, I have found a better sense of self as well as a better means of efficiency.
I get it.
Being called into H.R. is a hassle.
I get it.
Not everyone can take a joke. However, culture competence can alleviate the stressful workplace disorders and help us all get along a little better to get through the day a little easier and get home a little faster where we can joke or say anything we want without any issue. . .
Diversity and inclusion, folks:
It’s not that hard. It just takes a little understanding and discretion.
I saw Frank years later. I was “off the clock” so to speak and so was he. We were passing each other in Grand Central Station. I walked by and said nothing, to which I heard him scream a few obscenities at me when I passed.
It’s funny. I am a heavily tattooed person. I am told that I have an appearance and I live with a stigma about me, and yet, I am calm headed and handled myself appropriately.
Frank, on the other hand, successful in business and not a tattooed mark on his body, he is seen as the more socially appropriate one.
Isn’t that funny?
By the way, Frank tried his humor with someone in the loading dock of the same address. The truck driver Frank joked with was not as understanding of Frank’s humor.
Instead of considering the fairness of size; this very large man walked over to Frank, put his arm around Frank’s shoulder and then proceeded to whisper a deadly threat into Frank’s ear.
Frank’s smiley expression immediately turned awkward and then he quickly walked away.
Some people never learn . . .