Rush-hour, south-bound Red Line. Chicago public transit commuters know what this means: crowded and crude.
This past Thursday evening, I got sandwiched between two men who were smack dab in the middle of a loud and highly detailed discussion about their favorite porn. They acted as if they were the only two on the train. One of them said he liked to get down while watchin' a woman get gang-banged.
Did I mention I was standing right in between these frogs? Their nasty, disrespectful words flamed. Sliced. Reduced.
I was a four-alarm fire, and I completely understood commuters' rage at that moment. The swampy disregard for all the women who surrounded them... and me, who could feel them bump against my hips (again, rush-hour + south-bound = standing-room only) while they loudly recalled many of their favorite porn stars by name, with explicit reasons about why they liked what they liked.
Everyone sighed, grunted and rolled their eyes in disgust, but no one said anything.
And maybe, had I not been close-enough-to-bump, I would have popped in my earbuds, and tried my best to ignore them, too. But I wasn't. So I couldn't.
I decided I would clear this atmosphere. But how? Empathically, of course ;-)
For the past couple months, I've participated in a weekly Empathy Circle. Every Saturday for 2 hours, Edwin Rutsch (El Cerrito, CA), Lidewij Niezink, Ph.D. (Groningen, Netherlands), Alice Aird (Victoria, Australia) and I (Chicago, IL) connect via Googlehangout. We do so to develop our shared intention to "build a culture of empathy." That might sound like a lofty goal, but this post is about a real-world application of doing that very thing, while riding the subway.
The first thing I did was choose the place I would speak from. Let's be clear, I was pissed off. Not angry. Pissed. The negative feelings I had about their praise of a young woman being gang-banged were as low a vibration as the the loud filth they were talking. Sexuality is beautiful, and I've seen sexually explicit material that I've deeply appreciated. So this wasn't coming from me being uptight or prudish. I was triggered because circumstances had forced me into super-close proximity with highly disrespectful content that I couldn't easily escape. So, respect is what I reached for. In myself, and in them. In my mind, I created a bubble that held the three of us. I then filled that bubble with this simple thought-form: "I respect you, and you respect me."
The first word out my mouth wasn't immediately true. I spoke to what I wanted to be true in that moment -- I called them, "Gentlemen." Turning to my left, and then my right, I looked them both directly in the eye and said, "Gentlemen, I'm offended by your conversation, and I'm asking you to stop. Please stop your conversation."
They were flustered for a moment, and then the man on my right said, "You're right, ma'am. I'm sorry."
I really believe, somehow, they felt my intention not to judge, condemn or fear them. For the remaining 20 minutes of our shared ride, we actually got into an enjoyable conversation about gender-relations. I asked them, "Would you talk that way in front of your Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Nieces?" They openly admitted that they wouldn't. "Well, maybe you could give the same consideration to Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Nieces who aren't yours?" They received the suggestion, and even thanked me for it. There was genuine rapport between us, and our whole lil' section of the train-car had a feeling of upliftment, like something clean and fragrant had just swept through it.
Believing in the humanity of every soul, including my own, is an empathic choice. Sometimes, we'll be called to see the desired end, from the beginning. Start from the atmosphere or experience you want to be true. Trust in your ability to bring that adjustment into actuality. Little steps, taken again and again. When space is made for the height of our potential, it's pure joy to see us rise into it.
How do you feel about believing in the goodness of yourself/others, and calling it forth when it seems to be hiding?