“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” – Simon Sinek
Many years ago I was affiliated with an organization that served among the drug addicted and homeless in Southern California. It was simultaneously rewarding and heartbreaking and the ongoing effort to enlist others in our cause was never-ending. We needed volunteers, we needed money, we needed advocates with government agencies and it took great focus to remember the “why” behind what we were doing and not get lost in the tedious tasks and details.
This quote by Simon Sinek reminded me of an incident that happened one night that illustrates how easily we can get sidetracked on our way to the goal. A few of us had spent the evening getting a woman and her children settled in a safe location, having escaped an abusive situation that was fueled by drug addiction and trafficking. We were relaxing over a late dinner and discussing what remained to be done; the waitress was a young woman who was extremely responsive to our needs. But what I noticed as the evening went on was how dismissive our director was to her. He answered her questions with short, abrupt replies and never once made eye contact with her. I became increasingly embarrassed by his behavior and tried to make up for it by engaging her in short exchanges as she went about her work. I couldn’t help but think she probably overheard some of what we were talking about and assumed that because we were involved in acts of service we would be “nice” people. Instead, the leader of our little group was a complete jerk and treated her as if she was invisible.
Members of a democratic society like to think that we don’t judge others based on class, social standing or position but we do it every day, often without realizing it. We don’t make eye contact with sales people, the counter person at the deli, the UPS delivery driver – just make the transaction and don’t consider the impression we are leaving. We ignore the people who are “waiting” on us because that is their job. We get upset with the person who cut us off in traffic – would we be so vocal if they were actually standing there in front of us and could hear what we say? The David Levithan quote is quite poignant: “It would be too easy to say that I feel invisible. Instead, I feel painfully visible, and entirely ignored.”
Later that evening as we were walking home, I felt compelled to mention to my colleague what I had witnessed in his behavior. I had to explain it twice before he got it: the waitress wasn’t in your sphere of awareness. You had categorized her as unimportant because she couldn’t do anything for you. You never even saw her. To his credit, he was dumbfounded and then ashamed. We must guard against a life that has become so compartmentalized that every interaction, every relationship, every bit of time spent is defined by “what you can do for me.”
****Upcoming Bay Area Women’s Symposium: It’s All About You! ****
Pattie Vargas, Principal and Founder, The Vargas Group, is a frequent conference speaker on the topics of change management, organizational development, personal resilience and issues facing women in the workplace. As a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Teacher and Speaker, she provides seminars, keynote speaking, and coaching to move you and/or your organization in the desired direction to reach your goals.
Proprietary Communication 2017