Saturday, May 18, 2013

Power Struggle

I was at a coffee shop, trying to get some writing done. Not far from me a man was interviewing a potential barista. The man, who appeared to be the manager, wore an air of authority and spoke of “my coffee shop” and “my employees.” The potential barista was nervous and soft-spoken. I couldn’t stand the tense atmosphere, feeling that the arrogant manager was relishing making this man feel small. A woman sat next to the manager, perhaps another person with hiring power, although she didn’t pose any questions. I suspected her presence made this manager want to show off his dominance even more.

I searched for a classical music station on my laptop and tried to untangle my ear buds when I heard the manager say, “Give me one word to describe yourself.”

The man hesitated and emitted utterances to show he was thinking. “Hardworking,” he finally said.

“Hardworking is two words,” the manager laughed. He covered his eyes with one hand and shook his head. The woman laughed with him and covered her mouth with her clipboard. I looked over and saw the job candidate struggling to think of another suitable word.

“Hardworking is one word, actually,” I butted in. The man stared at me, completely shocked that I had the audacity to correct his English. The woman sitting next to him was now smiling at me. “Is it really?” she said.

“No, it’s two words,” the man said, before I could answer. I turned my attention back to my laptop with classical music plugged in my ears. The people next to me wrapped up their interview and moments later, the man I’d taken down a notch was standing over me. I removed my ear buds so he could tell me, “You’re not supposed to be up here. This floor isn’t open to customers yet.”

I usually hold back from correcting people, but sometimes it’s hard to hold my tongue. An imam came to my work a couple weeks ago to give a motivational speech with mandatory staff attendance. I had never heard an imam give a speech, so I was curious. The imam started with a prayer and then went on to promote some pills that would help people quit smoking. “I see the sisters in the audience are smiling. They want their husbands to quit smoking. It used to be that men would quit smoking and then go through withdrawal and beat their spouses. But these pills are free of side effects and withdrawals.” That was red flag #1, cluing me in that I would not take away much wisdom from this speech. He did not condemn domestic violence, rather, he made it into a joke. He continued, “I fly a lot and people always stare at me when they see me coming down the aisle. I mean, it’s terrible. Just because of two or three bad guys, they’ve messed things up for an entire culture.” I think he was referring to the 9/11 hijackers. Redflag #2. Four planes were hijacked by groups of four or five men each, so you do the math.

The imam said it was okay to educate women (Thank you, so much!) and wrapped up his speech. A woman in a hijab turned to me and asked me what I thought, “He’s very charismatic,” I said and left. “And,” I thought to myself, “He is another man who needs to be taken down a notch.”

I’ve learned to be careful about taking on that responsibility myself. For speaking up at the coffee shop, the manager made me move to a section that was not so quiet and conducive to writing. If I had spoken up in an attempt to set the imam straight, I would have been sent straight home. So I have learned to be selective in setting people straight, even when it’s a struggle to keep my mouth shut.