A to Z Letter “U”

I had this planned out you know… I would keep up, I haven’t. It’s alright though today I have set aside time to do the remaining letters and set them to publish on the days they need to. You see I understand, that I’m a outright mess with keeping up on things 🙂 I know, I know your reading that and saying to yourself “Aren’t we all?”. Perhaps, but, I didn’t want to shift my issues on to you. Today on Outside Perceptions A to Z Challenge let me present the Letter U, for understanding.

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That little bit of wisdom is one of my favorite sayings. It was given to me by a very special kind of Human when I took on a position as a trainer for a now lost and forgotten company. It’s true, one of the most true things in the world. I can, you can, we all can explain things to each other. The problem is when our shared life experiences dont mesh up to find that immediate common ground. You need some examples, ok sure… I want you to understand.

Try explaining the color blue to a color blind person.

To extreme perhaps… How about to a blind person? Without a frame of reference it becomes difficult to make yourself understood. You could describe the color Blue as a soft warm feeling like a good towel fresh from the dryer, smelling of flowers in spring. I am not a poet… so for me, it would be difficult to describe without a great deal of thought on both my observation, and their limitations.

The same can be said for a person of color trying to describe how they experience things in life. When I get pulled over (yes it happens) I get a small shot of adrenalin and a brief moment of panic, then I calm down and get my paperwork ready. That isn’t the case for others who live in the world. Let me give an example I witnessed.

When I was in High school my friend and I were taking a day off from school (cutting class). We wanted to go to the mall and we were in a hurry. My friend was over the speed limit and until we heard the brief WHOOP WHOOP of the siren we didn’t realize there was a police car behind us. I made and appropriate curse, my friend though… He, well… went into a panic. He pulled over quickly, turned the car off tossed the keys onto the dash and sat ramrod straight with his hands on the top of the wheel. His skin tone went almost ash gray and he started sweating, a lot. In the moment I didn’t initially realize that, I was getting over my brief scare and then calmed down… mostly. At this point I realized my friend was terrified. I thought it was because of his Dad, he was a nice man but he was strict, cutting school and getting a ticket… Well it wasn’t going to be good if he found out. The officer came over and was polite and friendly, asking for license, registration and insurance. He told us to stay in the car he would be back. I tried talking to my friend, typical kid stuff really, your dad wont find out, dont worry, it’s just a ticket but he still sat straight up, sweating and wide eyed. When the officer came back he handed back the papers and told my friend to slow down, no ticket, just a brief lecture to drive safely and be smart. The officer drove off and my friend slowly relaxed into the seat, after a minute he asked me to drive.

Now, He was a good friend I’d grown up with him, from kids playing with matchbox cars and BMX bikes to talking about which girl we wanted to ask out. We had talked about, parents, sex, girls, school, college, drugs, religion and even some politics. When I asked if he was ok, why he was sweating and shaking all he would say is “Just Drive, you wouldn’t understand.” I drove, that’s what friends do. We went to the mall things got better, we had a good time. On the drive home though he had me drive again. He did try explaining it to me.. I kind of understood it, but not really. What’s scary about a police officer? What did surprise me was when we got home he asked me to come in for a minute, then he told his Dad. His father listened to him, told him he handled it exactly right and then thanked me for driving home. There was no punishment… That I really didn’t understand, my friend had been punished once for being 10 minutes late. I was honestly very confused by the entire situation.

At the time didn’t understand, I had zero frame of reference to go by. My friend did spend some time trying to explain it to me later but… He had a hard time getting me to understand. He understood it on a visceral level though, and I couldn’t. I still can’t, not really. I understand it intellectually but I can never feel it not like he did, and millions of people still do.

30 years later and I’m still trying to understand, not just race relations but many things. I think the key is being patient, listening without judgement and, caring enough to try and relate. If you are the one trying to teach, or trying to learn, whatever the topic may be, be patient, listen and care… You may learn something and be a better person for it.

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