The best advice entertainer Larry David ever received, he said, was from his uncle, who told him, “Curb your enthusiasm.” The example Larry gives is that if you are having a wonderful day in a huge windy, sunny park, and then you go into the Secret Annex, well, don’t gush to tell Ann Frank about the great day you are having. Curb your enthusiasm.
Another entertainer, movie maker Spike Lee, said “Do the Right Thing.”
Suppose you are one of three teenage girls walking along, about Ann Frank’s age, maybe a little older. And suppose you are so excited—a friend! And you and The Friend talk excitedly, at length, and for the duration of your outing as the third girl, Sally, is left in the cold. Then you go home, fall back to earth, and say intensely to me, “Why didn’t Sally speak up? I didn’t mean to ignore her!”
My reply: Why didn’t you curb your enthusiasm, and, more importantly, do the right thing? You could have included her by saying, “Isn’t that right, Sally?… What do you think, Sally? …” and looked right at her until she could think of a reply.
Many teen girls these days enjoy Japanese anime, (cartoons) while from Japan comes a phrase that, maybe, applies to me: “to a fault.” I am “consciousness raised,” as regards inclusion, “to a fault.” I don’t expect others to care as much as I do.
I know I am “to a fault” because one time I was included in a morning meeting of top executives at work. We met in Meeting Room C, around a circular table. Being among the first to arrive, I took the liberty of rolling the chairs around to make as good a circle as possible, for maximum inclusion. I am proud that my company is one where the top executives didn’t mind “little old me” taking such initiative. Two of them chuckled, saying “That’s what Shawna does” (who was absent that day) implying the rest of them weren’t so intent on roundtable inclusion.
That same year I once drove two ladies up the 1A, to the next small town, to see some things. They both used only public transit, so this was a big chance for them to get beyond the city. The two: a friend of mine, and a mutual acquaintance. As we threw our coats in the car, I kept advising the acquaintance to sit up front by me, but she kept saying, “No, I’ll sit in the back,” right up until I pulled rank: “I’m the driver, and I want you up front, in the middle, so that I include you as I am talking over you to Jeannine.” Jeannine backed me up… I forget where we all sat for the drive home.
A few years ago I wrote about going to the theatre to see an anime movie. I mentioned a row of young men below me where the lad on the very end kept leaning way in, feeling shut out. Had I been a guy in the row, sitting right next to him, then instead of leaning towards the conversation leaders in the middle I would have turned and talked with him. Had I been that poor guy on the very end, if nobody had included me, then—remember those doors on the battleships and submarines? Water tight, with a wheel in the centre to dog the door shut? I would have swung the hatch over, dogged the wheel, and—forget those guys!—turned to watch the show on my own.
When I was younger than those boys, back in the good old days, cocktail parties were common. You would walk around holding a glass stem in two or three fingers. The host, it was understood, had a duty to be inclusive. When she would see person heading towards the wall, she would go up and bring her over to meet someone, saying something they had in common as icebreaker, such as “I’d like you to meet Shawna. She once took the same ceramics course that you are taking.”
One day my university club had a “pop and pizza” party. Maybe we had wine too. Anyways, I made sure we circulated. How? Our club offices were two rectangular rooms along a common hallway. So I said we would have the pop in one room, and the pizza in the other. This took some nerve, and I’m not sure anyone else would have done so, but I was club president, so I could do that. It all worked out. (In my childhood you could put a record player in one corner and vinyl records clear across the room)
Today, instead of a cocktail glass, I’m more inclined to hold a big bottle in my fist, as part of a Bring Your Own Booze party. I remember a young lady named Shaun who was well known for having good BYOB parties at her apartment. We always had a good time at her place. Except for the last party I attended. It was on a nice spring evening, with a Tim Hortons donut shop a couple of blocks away. Of course Shaun’s apartment had no fire place, or camp fire, but I had attended a campfire, back in college. I had done so as part of a college weekend camp (compulsory for my program) My point is this: The professors had taken care to have fewer logs and chairs around the fire than there were people. Not so at Shaun’s.
I should hasten to add that many of us at Shaun’s place were the sort who, in a bar, would order “cranberry soda, no ice.” Picture a vast empty living room, with a big circle of chairs, enough for all. Now, Shaun was a princess, a queen bee, a campfire among candles, and everybody was leaning towards her. And I was just too far away, since it was such a big circle. I simmered, I despaired, and then I collected a few people and mentioned to the air, “We’re going for a walk.” … Not to go smoke, but to go two blocks for a donut and pop or something. We had a nice long visit.
When we finally got back to the party… there were the same chairs, and the same people still in the same seats as when we left! I don’t think I closed any watertight door, but I don’t think I stayed much longer. I decided Shaun’s previous good parties had been more from good luck than good management.
I used to attend a yearly weekend convention for fantasy and science fiction. At the convention hotel I saw someone else who was inclusive: a beloved author, Lois McMaster Bujold. I met her because I purchased a “breakfast with Bujold” ticket. Early in the morning there were at least a dozen, maybe a score of us, gathered for breakfast. The table(s) was a long rectangle, not like the Algonquin hotel’s round table. Bujold found a seat at the very foot of the table. No one would have faulted her for staying there all breakfast. But instead, as she prepared to sit down, surveying the table, she announced she would sit there for half the time, and then switch to the head of the table. Silly? Embarrassing? No; sometimes, like me as club president, you have to do the right thing.
I was so touched by Bujold that I decided to share, to self-disclose, even though some of the folks at breakfast were strangers. Bujold had written of a character who had been child-abused into having multiple personality disorder, MPD, so that he could be a spy. You may have seen people with MPD like poor Sybil in Hollywood movies—stupid dam Hollywood. I took a deep breath and told Bujold I knew two people socially who had MPD, and that my best friend had dissociation, (which is the first stage) and so I was glad that Bujold hadn’t exploited the condition. She said with a smile that she had received three fan letters from people with MPD thanking her for being fair…
A man two seats down, wearing a suit and tie, handed me his business card so I could come and see him if ever I was in his city. A lawyer. I don’t usually hang around with fancy lawyers, but he did courtroom work with Alberta Family Services, so he knew about abuse, meaning: He was a safe person for me. So I became friends with Blair Petterson. I would stay at his place whenever I made a trip up to Edmonton. Saved money on hotels. Good thing I spoke up that day.
Maybe I’m no expert, maybe I’m “to a fault,” but here’s my conclusion: Curb your enthusiasm, and do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to include people, both furniture-wise and verbally, “What do you think?” If you don’t, then people like Bujold and I just might swing shut the watertight door… and you won’t even know we are doing it.
~This essay was given as a speech for toastmasters. After my speech, as we cleaned up the meeting room, some fellow toastmasters said to me, “But you can’t be inclusive “to a fault,” can you?” I replied “I meant I try not to be arrogant, I try not to have expectations that anybody else must do as I do.”
~I mentioned the line of boys at the movie in my essay A Night With Evangelion 2.0 archived February 2011.
~When I am doing sign language I will talk out loud as a simultaneous translation: It used to bug me as a boy when my relatives signed silently. If they were signing on a deaf-blind person’s palm and fingers then I couldn’t see what they were saying.
~If my bilingual boss is on the telephone to a bilingual person from his home country when I am not part of the conversation, even if I am only in the adjoining room, then he will talk in English.
~ At my toastmaster club our tables are in a horseshoe. The movie screen is off to the left side, so that folks at the very left end of the horseshoe have more trouble seeing. One night I was one the easier right side. Two experts from toastmasters central were showing us a “new improved reorganization.” (Pathways)
They sat down right beside me. I asked, “Is it important for you to see the screen as you do your presentation? (No) You could go sit near the blind spot and let folks from this club grab these two good seats.” So they got up and crossed the floor. Offended? No, as they crossed one said, “We should bring you around to all our presentations.”
regarding my disability work,
without having expectations for other disability workers
When I drive, carrying another staff and two mentally handicapped clients, I put the staff right behind me, I put the more verbal client in the back behind the passenger seat, where I can half see him, and I put the least verbal, a man who understands but can’t converse well, right in the passenger seat close beside me. That’s how I roll.
… It’s good for folks with disabilities to have “community awareness,” or feel “community membership,” but too often this means walking on the cold sidewalk with a pane of glass between them and the life in the stores.
I once had a fine “visit second hand bookstore then visit coffee shop” club. (Over coffee I encouraged conversation about our books) I organized it by first scouting for stores with nearby coffee shops, and getting acquainted with the bookstore staff. The clerks in such stores, unlike in the stores for new books, have the time and intention to talk with people.
So I would be talking to a clerk I had previously met, and then (figuratively, not literally) say, “What do you do think, Sally?” Naturally allowing the mentally handicapped client person into the conversation. Giving the staff a chance to meet a handicapped person. Giving the client a better level of community comfort. As I see it, community membership includes talking with community store people.
The bookstore club went so well that it continued long after I left the agency. Months after I left, the agency director told me how she hadn’t been able to entice a client to come do paid yard work, because he had his bookstore club to go to that day.