As often happens my mind picks up small threads and weaves them into something I wasn’t expecting. God has a way of working on me like that. Sometimes the strangest thing will set my wheels in motion and then it gets scribbled down in a journal somewhere and during prayer and meditation, it turns into something else. Eventually, it ends up here for my fine readers to ponder upon.
Recently a friend of mine told a joke, he was then told it was racist. The joke, while maybe in questionable taste, was never intended to be racist. I would never think of this person in that light. His actions do not match the words, I’ll unpack that more as we go.
This is the thread my mind picked up…Has it become so easy for us to judge one another based on a poorly phrased, misspoken, errored, or unwitting statement? Do we discount and discard the person altogether because of something they said? As my boss likes to say, we often throw the baby out with the bathwater.
For 25 years I had a career as a graphic artist. It was a lifetime or two ago before I delved into managing a newspaper or working as a marketing manager or working for a nonprofit. If you could put a logo on something I did the artwork for it, from billboard-sized signs to golf tees.
Creating art for someone else gives you a pretty thick skin. You have to be able to take someone else’s vision and make it come to life. You also have to be able to take their criticism and feedback to give them the design they want, oftentimes leaving your preferences on the cutting room floor. Things happen, instructions get can lost in translation or words get missed in proofreading. When this happens there is usually a conversation where someone has to eat a little crow. And since the customer is always right, it is usually the designer.
I had one such episode. At the time, I worked for a very large printing company in Nashville. We produced ad specialties and had an extensive calendar line for customers to choose from and customize.
I had worked on a very large wall calendar that had multiple advertisements on it for a veterinarian. They ordered 10,000 calendars to be distributed. It was very copy-heavy and graphic-intensive. The piece went through proofreading multiple times, went to the plate maker for printing prep, and finally to the press. Everyone in the company had laid eyes on this piece before it went out the door. And yet….
Two weeks later, I get called into the CEO’s office. The question, “Are you anti-Semitic?” Stunned and dumbfounded, I could only answer, “No, not at all.” My boss, who was Jewish, said “I didn’t think so but I just had to ask.”
At a loss for words, all I could say was, “Why?” He tells me he had a very good customer call him ranting that they couldn’t believe a Jewish company (they were also a Jewish company) would let such slanderous material leave their shop and that we should be ashamed.
My face lost all of its color when I saw the large calendar laid out behind his desk. He pointed to the area and said, “How did this happen?”
In VERY LARGE, very bold type was the name, address, and phone number of the veterinarian. Instead of the state being New Jersey, it said Jew Jersey. I was mortified. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.
My boss, being the kind gentle soul that he was, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I know you did not do this on purpose, the words do not match your actions, you are kind and caring, this is not who you are. But, I have to tell the client what happened and the company will have to reprint all of these calendars at no charge.”
I knew exactly what happened. I had been interrupted and when my hands went back to the keyboard, my right hand was one row higher on the keyboard and not on the home keys. I showed him on his keyboard how it happened and he was relieved it was such a simple mistake.
I have never forgotten that mistake, nor the words he spoke to me about the mistake. My words did not match my actions, it was not who I was. There have been many times I have misspoken, and said the wrong thing at the wrong time, my words came from ignorance. However, as I have lived, I have learned. We all have lessons to learn. I am so thankful that the people who were willing to walk alongside me did not discard me because of my ignorance and allowed me to learn from them.
Too often, we are not willing to meet someone where they are and spend time learning who they are and realizing we can learn from them. We throw out quick judgments and cut people off before giving them a chance. We cast blame, and tell them what they should be doing, or how they should be thinking. Pressing forward without listening or learning. We think we have all the answers or know what’s best without truly understanding the situation. That behavior gets you nowhere and builds walls rather than tearing them down and making progress.
It is not until we know a person and are willing to walk alongside them without judgment that can we see if their actions and words align. Leading child psychiatrist, Dr. James Comer said, “No significant learning occurs without significant relationship.”
I grew up in a very judgmental home where there were few significant relationships. Sadly, there are times when people’s actions do match their words. People who are hurting hurt people and distance themselves to avoid more pain. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of a solitary existence. They often feel they don’t measure up, so no one else can. This can make relationships impossible because there is no flexibility, no grace, no compromise, only negativity, and the need for you to bend to their will. I have found those people I have to love from a distance, they rob me of my peace and well-being. You have to find your own balance. You can not plant seeds in concrete, nothing takes root until the seed finds a crack and even then the seed struggles to grow.
Everyone has a bias of one kind or another, no one is without sin, and we all fall short. Now, the question is, can we offer the same grace that is given to us? That is a hard task to do at times and sometimes we have to do it from a distance and know that God is in control.
Now, I have to admit, I had one other terribly memorable typo in my career. I worked for a company that designed collegiate wear and I did the artwork for a women’s track team in West Virginia, I’ll let you ponder what that typo could have been and what the ensuing conversation was like.
Now, in honor of how this train of thought got started and for old time’s sake, I thought I’d close with a joke for my graphic arts and proofreading friends…
Helvetica and Times New Roman walk into a bar. “Get out of here!” Shouts the bartender, “We don’t serve your type.”
Remember to smile, you’ll brighten someone’s day.