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It was her tone. Her tone on the voicemail went right through me. Her words would roll off (or I would try to let them). They weren’t a big deal. I mean, they were to her, so they mattered to me. She was upset about the way her envelope had been addressed. In the scope of things I was dealing with, it was a small thing. But have you noticed how the seemingly small things can become big problems if left to their own devices?
She’d received them over the years but, “I haven’t said anything!” She said. “We get a few like it here and there from my husband’s grandmother!” Her sarcasm, like I was an idiot, hit the nerves on the sides of my forehead. “Nobody addresses an envelope that way any more! It’s sexist and is contributing to the sexism in our society!” (A sexist idiot, I am.) “I am not my husband’s property!” Extra exclamation point.
No, ma’am. I tried to listen beyond her tone.
I understood. It was our mistake. I would check it out and correct it. Everyone deserves their own name. We probably hadn’t had it in our database. No excuse. I would find out. I realized though, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about her point. What was a sensitive issue to her had not been to me. Mr. and Mrs. Todd Farris had seemed special on the rare occasion I’d seen it. It reminded me of my parents and all the mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. William Wenzler growing up. I hadn’t assumed that anyone was undervaluing me, but perhaps recognized it as an acknowledgement that we were two in one.
My (second) husband acknowledges my independence, and hers, maybe her’s as well. But it was different for this woman. I would make a change. It was important and I would pay more attention, making sure we always address a woman by her name; not imply in a salutation that she exists in the shadow of her partner. The woman was right. We have this freedom in our country. Not all do.
So, after the call, I agreed with her. But her tone had put me on the defense and done its damage. It was accusatory, and a little arrogant. Her tone had dismissed me as a person. I already had an end-of-the-week headache and was grateful that the weekend had arrived. I knew I would probably be taking this lady home with me, although I would try my best not to. (You can see how that went.)
We say, take a stand. Have a voice. Speak up. Yes indeed, this is what we want. But how do we accomplish that for the good of those in our lives, both near and far? How can we each work towards better systems, policies, protocols and yes, inclusivity with more sensitivity? Everyone deserves a voice (and a name). I don’t think it will hurt to remember—
It’s not what we say in the end that matters. It’s how we say it.
How we share our humiliations, hidden shame, injustices, annoyances, frustrations, pet peeves, grievances and all the rest, then take action for what is right and good for ourselves and others, will either propel change for what is right and good, or take us all to hell in a hand basket.
We’re not going to always agree, we can agree on that. But if we can imagine others as the valuable creation they are intended to be, and offer a little tolerance, patience, gentleness and, why not try it?, some love, maybe we can see, that which we hope to take place—in our lives, in our work, in our world—begin to happen.
Believe it or not, this is the very thing Danceworks teaches through our classes and dance programs in Milwaukee schools: respect for self and others, and how to react in a positive way when a situation doesn’t go according to plan. Dancing together teaches individuals to be creative in approaching a problem by working together not against. Couldn’t we all use the lessons our kids (yes, and adults) learn through dance, in our own lives—in our voices, in our actions and REactions?
Just as a dancer has to warm up—bend, stretch, take good deep breaths—before moving into the dance, it wouldn’t hurt to do the same as we move into a situation or a conversation that could create tension rather than flow. Then offer a hand, not a kick. It just might make a difference and take us a step in the right direction, then another and another, moving us along the path to joy, health and creativity. And that, I think is a good thing—a good mission for Danceworks and for all of us.

A favorite old picture (my husband is a redhead) of Danceworks students making steps of joy, working together not against, and growing in confidence and healthy respect for self and others.
The end of the story is…I discovered the woman’s children had participated in our program we call Mad Hot. They had received scholarships over the years, as a result, to attend our classes. And for that, I am grateful.

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