Reflective Question:
Have you ever overheard someone saying something negative about you? How did you handle the situation?

Let’s be honest: most of us gain some satisfaction out of talking about people once in a while. It may not be enlightened but it’s the truth. Every now and then, talking about the person we saw acting wild on the train, the “cat lady” that lives down the street or the “bad” child that made a scene in the store gives us some small bit of sadistic pleasure and makes us feel a little more “normal” than any of us really are.

The danger in this seemingly innocuous act is that none of us knows anyone else’s situation nor do we ever know who is listening to the things we say. Our words can be hurtful and offensive, even when we don’t mean them to be and once something is out in the atmosphere, it is very hard to reign them back in.

Case and point: As I was leaving one of my jobs and walking toward the train station yesterday, a young man and woman were walking ahead of me. Just as I got within earshot, I heard the woman say something about religion and then, in a harsh and dismissive tone, the man said: “Yeah, maybe those crazy religions. Like that lady who walks around here in all white all the time.”

I knew he was talking about me and I also knew that the very last thing he counted on was me being right over his shoulder to hear what he had said. Rather than becoming upset by the reference to my religion and practices as “crazy” I took the opportunity to turn this into a teaching moment. Upon hearing the statement, I said:

Me: “You mean me?”

Young man: (Turns around and is visibly startled) “No… uh… I wasn’t talking about you… umm… there’s a lady at my job… ummm…”

Me: “Listen, it’s alright, but you should really watch what you say because you never know who is listening and you might really hurt someone’s feelings or offend them.”

Young Man: “You right… I’m sorry.”

Me: “It’s cool, but listen, just because you don’t know about or understand something doesn’t make it ‘crazy.’ The best thing to do if you want to know more about something is to ask.”

Young Woman: “Yeah, I seen (sic) some other people walking around in all white and I wanted to ask about it… so, why do you wear white?”

This opened up the conversation, and I stood and spoke with these young folks for a little bit, telling them about my religious tradition and religion in general. It turned out to be a great experience for them and for me; as I aimed to teach them, I was learning a lesson as well. I’m human, perfect in my imperfection and I, too, am guilty of sometimes judging and saying things that could be hurtful or offensive. While I can gladly say the occasions are quite few and far in between, it does happen from time to time. Having this experience reminded me that it shouldn’t happen at all.

Sending peaceful and loving vibes to you all! Let’s keep our words and energy positive and encouraging – Ase!