Monday, August 8, 2011

A not-so-everyday hero

It was a bright summer day in Minnesota and my friend Lynn had asked me to join her for a barbecue at her friends’ home. It was a casual gathering of ten or eleven people who didn’t know each other well, so the mood was open and friendly with lots of free-ranging talk. As we sat at the table eating, one of the guests asked, “Does anyone mind if I tell a racist joke?”

Abrupt silence.

Rule of thumb: if you have to ask, it’s not appropriate. But that point aside, the question hung heavy in the air.

I felt uncomfortable but didn’t know what to do. I was a guest in someone else’s home and didn’t want to appear rude or unpleasant by voicing an objection, which would probably have made the hosts and other guests uncomfortable. The interlocutor was from New Zealand and an unofficial guest of honor. I presume he was trying to be polite or display cultural sensitivity by posing the question before telling the joke, but he didn’t achieve his aim. I still felt uncomfortable but was paralyzed by mixed feelings. In the end, not wanting to appear boorish, I said nothing.

Suddenly Lynn said, “I mind.” All eyes turned to her. To my surprise, I added, “So do I.” The table was still quiet. Then Lynn’s housemate, a nondescript woman in her early 20s, spoke out: “I do, too.” I was stunned: she was the last person I expected to say anything. No one else said a word. Not knowing what to do next, the three of us stood up and left the table. The other guest told his joke.

I wish I could say I voiced the first objection. But I did not have the courage to follow my heart and put myself on the line as Lynn had. And I did not yet understand the other guest was imprudent for putting the rest of us in an awkward position and for not backing down when someone did object. There should be no doubt: if an action is inappropriate, permission to do it anyway does not mitigate its wrongness.

So thank you, Lynn, for your moral clarity and your will to literally stand up for your convictions.

I’m honored to know you.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Är du svensk? Det går även alldeles utmärkt att skriva kommentarer på svenska!/Comments in Swedish are also welcome!