I was at a party, in a passionate conversation with a group of people about movies and television. There were different opinions but, overall, there was a deep appreciation for the art and craft of telling stories through the two media.
A guy approached and started to interject a series of negative thoughts and criticisms, that didn’t offer any alternative to his rather bleak point of view, or add anything valuable to the experience of film or television.
It became apparent that we didn’t share his gusto for negativity, and, just before I walked away to get some water, he asked me, as if lassoing me to stay put.
What do you like, coffee or tea?
I could see in his eyes he had asked this question a million times, in hundreds of social and professional situations before. He was confident about the brilliant comeback he had perfected over time to either answer, coffee or tea. I saw the brimming expectation in his eyes.
Apparently, people don’t cross-examine that simple question. I was kind of surprised myself, but there was something in the way he asked the question that prompted me to do it. He had just too much negative and too much cocky to let it go.
He repeated, impatiently, with a growing desire to pitch his point of view immediately after my answer.
I want to know what kind of person you are. Are you a coffee or a tea person?
This is something I learned when I was living in New York and I had to talk on the phone to ConEdison, the department of energy and power. If they keep telling me the same boxed, standard thing, regardless of what I say, I just have to do the same and repeat my thing, until they hear me.
This time I lucked out because it didn’t take long. The guy blinked and said,
What do you mean, why? There’re two kinds of people, I want to know which you are. It’s not rocket science, coffee or tea?
He chuckled glancing at the rest of the group for support.
I love both.
For a fraction of a second, the guy’s eyes turned glassy, as if someone had sneaked into his brain and turned off the light. He looked at me with the memory of a smile on his face. It felt like he was scouring his brain for as good a comeback to my answer as the ones he had tested before, but no sound came out of his mouth.
What you asked isn’t real for me, there’s no room for me in your question.
I thought, ‘what got into me to address him like this?’ And the answer came quickly, ‘I don’t like to be boxed, I like to be seen and heard for who I am.’
And my thoughts ran fast for a few seconds. It makes us feel more comfortable if we can stereotype and categorize people, put women on one planet, men on another, Democrats in one file, Republicans in the other. All Jews here, Catholics there and Muslims over there. Italians in this drawer and French in that cabinet (because they need more room).
We throw judgments on others, we box them in cliches so that we don’t risk venturing into something we aren’t familiar with. I do it, that’s why I can spot it when others do it to me. And when I do it, I never get to know the other person, I only revamp my boxes.
I think boxes are good to put away Christmas decorations a few days after the New Year, until next December. But people? Better free.
So, I looked at the guy and said,
Since you wanted to know, I’m this kind of person.