Mel has a thought provoking post up about our approach to blogging, which seemed to me to really be about our approach to people. How do we approach people? Do we approach them as means to an end? Do we see people for their status alone–or does their status even play a significant role in how we approach them and respond to them?
I didn’t tell this story last year, but during the speed dating session on the first morning of the 2008 conference, there was a blogger (who has a large readership) who was supposed to move to my table, looked at us, and made a dismissive motion with her hand and picked a different table. That same blogger was there this year. And now she wanted to chat and chat once she saw that I was in the keynote. And frankly, it stung. I was polite because she’s a human being, but I was distracted through the whole conversation because all I could think about was how she treated me the year before.
This reminded me of a story from my own life. Until X finished school and got a job as a big fish in a Very Small Pond and I went along with him as the lovely wife of, I had pretty much lived my life as a nobody. That is, I had never been treated as someone with Status. Once we moved to the city that I just moved away from, I had to get used to being somebody that people in our Very Small Pond recognized and knew all about, though I didn’t even know their names, and slowly learned their faces. It was a weird experience for me the first time I went to a small get together and everyone in the room knew who I was and quite a bit about me, and I didn’t know anyone there. My own little piece of celebrity, and I hated it. I would be introduced as _______’s wife, and I would joke, “My claim to fame!”
Anyway. Most of that came later. Very early on, the community threw us a welcome party, which was big and splashy (a news camera was there!–told you it was a small pond), and just having that for us was a weird enough experience. I smiled and said nice to meet you to everyone. At some point X and I were sitting down and he was eating something. It must have been toward the end of the event. I was talking with a lovely older woman I’ll call Pearl. Another older woman came up and started talking to me and my husband and made some positive comment about my appearance, then asked me if I was Jewish and then turns to Pearl and says, “Doesn’t she look like a shiksa?” Now Pearl was mortified and said unequivically “NO, she DOESN’T!” I, actually, thought it was pretty funny, and X was trying pretty hard not to spit out whatever was in his mouth he was laughing so hard.
I really do look like a shiksa, probably. Whatever. If I tell you to summon an image of “jewish woman” in your mind, what you come up with will not look like me. Whatever. When you convert to Judaism, you don’t also convert into a genetic group, so I’m not going to have a certain “look.”* Whatever. I thought this lady was really funny. I told some of my friends about this, and they thought it was funny, too.
Well, sometime in the next few days, this crazy old lady figured out that she had made her shiksa comment to the rebbetzin. She then went in to X’s office and apologized to him and asked him to extend the apology to me.
Well, then I was pissed.
Why did she only apologize when it was the rabbi’s wife? Would she have sought out the “nobodies” who she obviously thought we were to apologize?
I was angry at the time at her seemingly sole focus on my “position,” but the truth is that she must have been pretty embarrassed because for the rest of my time in Small Pond, I don’t believe she ever spoke to me.
It is too easy to not see the human in our neighbors. It is too easy to be blinded to the very existence of some and to be distracted by the status of others, to the exclusion of their very humanity. I do this. I have been hard on this woman, but I know that I have done this very thing, in many different ways to many different people–by not seeing because of lack of status, by only seeing status.
Status–whatever form it takes, be it position in the community, blog statistics, money, whatever–can be like a loud siren screaming in our ears. We often can’t hear anything else alongside its blaring noise. And when it is suddenly absent, the silence itself can be deafening and, with our ears still ringing, still looking for those markers of status, we can miss out on the quieter, beautiful sounds then, as well.
*Once, in our old, heavily Jewish neighborhood (pre-moving to Small Pond City), I was picking up our dry-cleaning. When I told the guy my last name (which had a typically Jewish ending), he looked at me really hard and said, “Are you Jewish? You don’t look Jewish.” I just smiled sweetly at him and said, “We look all kinds of ways, don’t we?”