Lately there has been a recurring topic within my conversations in various circles. Whether with family and friends, or colleagues, I have been questioned on my deficiency in listening. For obvious reasons, I immediately take a defensive position and declare that, “I do listen!” However upon further reflection, perhaps I don’t, at least not how others are accustomed. So I propose to them to hear me out.
1. Don’t tell me I can’t do it, because I will. Throughout my acculturation and integration into U.S. society there have been too many instances in which I was told I could not do certain things. “You can’t do that,” was coming from both sides of the border. My Mexican family, while well-intentioned and fearful of cruel consequences, cautioned me many times about the future I was dreaming and working toward. On the other boundary, U.S. society was warning the same because of my native culture. I did listen to the warnings however decided to take tentative, strategic steps forward. There have been many successes, and just as many cruel failures, still I would not be where I am today if I had listened and heeded the warnings.
Though, I have developed my listening. While I may differ with the rationale and/or the status quo, I am better able to respectfully disagree and offer the opportunity to collectively brainstorm to attain a desired goal. The invitation is oftentimes declined, but for the most part it invites the experience of free-association of ideas that lead to a successful outcome.
2. Don’t offer me only one solution. As a consequence of my life choices, I do not represent a preconceived mold. Often times producing comment such as, “Really, you don’t seem Mexican.” Or, “You’re different.” Well, yes, I am different, just as everyone else is. And, I don’t accept one solution for any given question or objective. Just the other day, I was recalling a high school experience that obviously made a strong impression, however filed away with similar impressions to come. The high school counselor, a Hispanic male, well-intentioned or not, offered the only solution to my dream of obtaining a higher education while not having a dime to pay for it, “Join the armed forces,” he counseled. Really? That’s it?!? That was my first and last visit to the school’s counseling office.
I have since developed a habit of “watching, listening and learning.” I intentionally get involved with groups that are NOT like-minded, frequently being the odd, “different” one in the group. While being uncomfortable at the onset, this has giving me the opportunity to learn new skills, mature my thinking, cultivate diverse experiences, and innovate multiple solutions, for myself as well as for others. If one can only offer a single option, then please direct me to another who has the time, energy, and desire to be creative. I’ll listen to that!
3. I don’t quit, so please don’t ask me to. There is one cultural trait that I represent to the tee, that is, I am strong-willed and passionate. However, there was a time during my adolescence that fear and doubt took over when I chose to join the high school tennis team. I was immediately informed that this was a rich, white man’s sport, inferring I, a Mexican, middle-class female, had no business serving up a match. Nevertheless I joined, without a membership to the local tennis club, I learned to play tennis. I wasn’t the star of the team, but I did play well and reliably. I won some and lost some.
A switch in tennis coaches introduced the team to new opponents and new tourneys. Tourneys actually held in nice tennis clubs. It was here that fear and doubt crept in, to the point where I walked off the court and GAVE the match to my opponent. That day my coach GAVE me a valuable lesson. On the court, what matters is skill and tenacity, NOTHING else. Color, gender and money have NOTHING to do on the court, “get your a** back in there!” And so, I did, and have never again walked off a court of any kind ever, whether a task, a game, a role, a job, etc.
Yes, I admit, I don’t listen. A survival defense? Perhaps. Still needed? Definitely! Society has progressed somewhat, still, women and people of color continue to fight for basic, human rights and equal opportunity. My story is not unique. So don’t tell us what we can’t do, don’t give us your only option, and don’t ask us to quit, because listening to this is NOT a solution. I welcome the opportunity to have a respectful and creative conversation to brainstorm diverse, positive thinking for all.