“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” - Emerson
Almost every morning I visit my nearby WaWa convenience store because I love their coffee. For those who haven’t been to these stores, they are part of a convenience store chain primarily located in the Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area.
I am always amazed at how helpful and kind people are during my morning WaWa visits. Customers hold the door for those arriving and exiting, and they nod and say hello to each other. And although the stores are small and quite busy - there is never any pushing, shoving or line issues – even though most patrons are still in need of their morning coffee.
Wish the same could be said for other establishments.
Last week my fiancé and I went to a well-renown yoga retreat center for a few days of rest and relaxation. I had been going to this particular center for years. During my first visit I decided to commit to yoga teacher training. Which was quite fortuitous as within a month of starting this training, I discovered my husband had cheated on me causing me to eventually file for divorce.
The yoga teacher training, and yoga community, helped me navigate a very difficult time in my life. As a result, I have a very warm place in my heart for this particular yoga retreat center.
The yoga center asks attendees to refrain from using cell phones in common areas such as the lunchroom. This is something I typically adhere to. However, last Thursday, the pet adoption agency I volunteer for had an urgent need for someone to foster a 65-pound Pointer named Buddy over the New Year’s Holiday. There was a quick turnaround needed to arrange the fostering assignment and I was working with the adoption manager to figure out if my 17-pound Shih Tzu would likely get along with Buddy. So I was quietly texting the adoption manager in the lunchroom. In hindsight I should have probably gone to my room, but the cell coverage in the center is rather spotty and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively if I left my location.
Out of nowhere someone said “Is this your first time here?” I looked up at the person behind the voice and stayed silent as her eyes and tone were not warm.
My fiancé took her comment for friendliness and said, “It is my first time here but she has been here multiple times.”
I continued to remain silent. I sensed her comment was related to my cell phone. Was this really happening? At a yoga retreat center? Have we become such an intolerant society that even yogis are throwing “shade” for ridiculously inconsequential things?
The first time I heard the term shade was on Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta franchise. Shade is defined as a seemingly nice comment that is in fact quite rude and hurtful. But because the comment is landed rather innocuously, it is difficult for the receiver to be sure they were criticized or judged. And, to top it off, it can look like they are overreacting if they do respond. Being read is another way to describe this type of activity.
This is a communication approach you might expect to hear on a Bravo reality show, but not at a yoga retreat center.
I finished texting my agreement to foster the dog and put my phone away. A part of me wanted to be above it all and just walk away. But, I couldn’t stop myself from letting her know the context of my situation.
“Excuse me, did you ask whether we were first timers because I had my cell phone out?” I asked as I started shaking from head to toe.
She looked a little embarrassed, “Yes, I did.”
“Do you know the story of “Baby in the Backseat?”
She said, “Yes.”
Baby in the Back Seat is a story that illustrates the importance of situational context. A person (let’s call him Fred) is sitting in a car at a red light. The Toyota before him at the light has a woman in the front seat and she is reaching into the back seat of the car. The light turns green and the Toyota doesn’t move. Fred begins honking his horn and going crazy about the Toyota not moving. He becomes even angrier as he watches her continue to fiddle with something in the back seat. He starts to get out of his car to yell at the woman when he sees her frantically open the driver’s side door and go into the back seat. Her infant son was choking on something and she had to perform the Heimlich maneuver to save him. Fred offers assistance, but the mother was able to help the son resume normal breath. Before going back to his car, Fred apologizes to the woman for not understanding the context of the situation. She accepts the apology and both proceed through the traffic intersection.
This story is sometimes called Baby In the Back Seat or BIBS.
I explained, “So, I was in the process of arranging to foster a large dog over the upcoming holiday weekend since no one could do it. That was why I was texting.”
The woman looked embarrassed, “That is very nice of you.”
I didn’t know what else to say without being unkind. So I said, “Everything is not always what it seems” and I walked away still trembling.
I was so frustrated. Even here – at this renowned yogi sanctuary – I was thrown shade. I could understand if I had my cell phone out in a class or lecture, but it was the cafeteria. Practically every yoga class, lecture and art work proclaims the benefits of a kind and forgiving nature, yet I was still “read” by an intolerant yogi.
I tried not to let this incident affect me. Not everyone at the center was like her and she was probably having a difficult time on her journey. So, with a little mental re-framing, and the help of a previously scheduled meditative and reiki massage at the center’s spa (amazing), I felt better.
The next morning, my boyfriend and I were scheduled to leave the yoga center right after breakfast, but we decided to leave before dawn to return to our normal surroundings.
We also wanted to visit WaWa so we could experience some kindness with our morning coffee.
I will likely go back to the yoga center someday – but only when I can leave my cell phone at home.
Have you mistakenly harmed or been unkind to someone because you misunderstood the situational context? Maybe remembering the BIBS story could help you create a kinder outcome.
“Invent your world. Surround yourself with people, color, sounds and work that nourish you.” - Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy
Turns out at least some of my people are at WaWa.