G-Sync: Listening and the city

"As I look on to the time ahead with Rapid Growth but also as a citizen of this city, I pledge to be a better listener, since it is clear that now is the time to engage in dialogue, not retreat in silence." - Publisher Tommy Allen.
On a day that the nation was mourning the loss of 58 lives and more than 500 wounded in (yet again) another mass shooting in America, I was also reflecting on my time at Rapid Growth as I celebrated nine years as their lifestyle editor on this same day—October 2. 

And while I had a lot of reasons to reflect, Monday morning’s horrific news left me in a less-than-celebratory mood as I attempted to process the numbness I was experiencing from this latest shooting as outrage on the internet and news outlets flowed constantly throughout the day. 

Going through the motions of my day, I attempted to make sense of the Las Vegas shooting, but only came up empty each time I tried to find meaning. 

Since the Newtown assassinations at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, where 20 children and six educators were gunned down by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, my soul has been retreating to a new reality with each mass shooting that would follow. 

As I talked with folks throughout the day, I wondered if we, as Americans, could ever find the courage or creativity to find common ground on this topic. I realized ultimately that if after all these children were slaughtered in Newtown, then I held little hope that this latest round of shooting deaths would produce a different response. 

After socializing with friends into the night on Monday, I hopped into my Uber to head home. 

And yet, it was on my ride home that once again—in the most of ways—I was reminded of the power of dialogue and why it is still important for our society to pursue it.

After the driver asked why I used the name “Tommy” and not “Tom,” I said, “It was how I wished to be addressed since it is my name.”

I was relieved that my driver did not seek to engage with me on the topic of the shootings. Judging by our quietness, I think we both were still in a state of shock from the news from Las Vegas as we rode in silence.

So as I prepared for a quiet ride home, my driver began to show signs that indicated he wanted to talk, so I settled in to be conversational for the time we would be together in the car. 

“How is your night going?” I inquired.

“Well, today, October 2, is my anniversary for driving for Uber,” he replied.

Immediately my first reaction was, What are the odds that tonight of all the drivers out in the city, I would land here with someone who shares the same work anniversary date with me?

Fighting back the desire to comment on the coincidence and risk centering it on me, which I clearly did not want, I decided to take a different approach and just listen, hoping to bend time and propel me home.

As Paul shared that he had hosted more than 6,000 rides in our city since he began driving for Uber, I then asked, “Out of thousands of riders you've hosted in our city, has there been any one that stood out to you as memorable or impacted you?”

At first Paul was quiet as he thought on my question, then proclaimed that there were far too many people he’d hosted to land on just one. To Paul, they all just kind of melted into sameness. 

But after a few blocks of silence, he chimed in that there was one who stood out. All ears, I leaned forward from the back seat to hear this rather soft-spoken gentleman’s story. 

He shared that once he had a call a while back to pick up a woman named ‘Molly,’ but once he arrived to pick her up, he did not identify her features as female, so he said, “You don’t look like a Molly.”

“What do you mean by, ‘she didn’t look like a Molly,’” I replied in a gentle manner, not wanting to engage aggressively at this late hour.
Paul would go on to explain that Molly was probably as he described to me a “transvestite,” to which I injected quietly and without judgement, “I think the word you are seeking is transgender.”

As we discussed the matter further, it became clear that  Paul and Molly did not get off on the right foot.  

In fact, Paul’s negative comment at the start is probably why both folks awarded each other a one-star rating.

Fighting the urge to lecture or over-correct as he shared what happened and how he felt, I listened carefully, letting the story unfold into uncharted territory as we discussed the incident. 

As he told the story, referring to Molly as “he/she,” I would finally step in gently to say, “I believe the use of the pronoun ‘she’* would be appropriate here.”

Paul adjusted the gender immediately as he continued our conversation, but I was not certain he bought what I was trying to get at here. 

Suddenly, I recalled a very moving scene from the Amazon series “Transparent” that I had just watched.

In the third season finale of “Transparent” as Maura Pferrerman (played by Jeffrey Tambor) walked the deck of a cruise ship, she would remark to the captain, “It’s a lovely boat.”

“Ship. We call it a ship,” the captain replies.

“What’s the difference,” asks Maura, who is transgender.

“It’s a matter of respect,” says the captain.

“Matter of respect. Okay. I get that,” she replies and then goes about her stroll. 

So perfectly illustrated here in both the series and my Uber was a reminder of the power of meeting people where they are and building understanding from there. 

What had started off as him asking why I used “Tommy” had segued—without any clue to even me—to a thoughtful dialogue about transgender individuals in our society and how we need to offer the same respect we would expect for ourselves to them. 

During our short time in the car, this methodology of listening would remind me why it was important to meet people sometimes where they are and build from there. I am certain that if our ride was longer, I would have learned something from him beyond this one story. 

In fact, as this tale unfolded, I detected genuine remorse for his getting it so wrong with Molly. I wished that I could have rung her to connect these two, but I realize that is a bit unrealistic since I was not sure who Molly was exactly, even though I had an idea. 

Paul’s ability to be honest about a bad situation gave me permission to be honest and share from my own experience that I, too, have friends who are trans and that I’ve made my fair share of mistakes on my journey as I came to understand these friends in my life.

And of course, I shared that I, too, had committed one of the biggest mistakes folks often make in the use of the wrong pronouns when addressing a person who is trans. 

As we pulled in the driveway, I thought about how I could wrap all of this dialogue up and in a meaningful way without coming off  smug.

Getting out of the car, all  I could do was share advice that I had received from a friend whose gender I, too, had messed up.

“The trick is not to dwell on the mistake, but to apologize and pledge to do better when speaking with the person you’ve offended,” I said. “Good luck on your journey and thank you for sharing your story with me.”

As I get older, I am learning that not every encounter in our life needs to be a lecture. Sometimes we have to yield that everyone is on a journey and trying to figure it out just as I am. The best foot forward is the honest one and our conversation made me feel a connection I have not felt in a long time.

Learning to listen is a lifelong task. It is something I hope I am getting better at as I age but  I’m far from perfection. But I never want to negate the urgency to keep these kinds of conversations happening all over in our city because meaningful one-on-one dialogue is how we can create greater understanding within our community.  

For if the big actions in society produce no meaningful movement - and with each shooting we see this to be sadly true - then we have to adjust our methodologies to ensure dialogue and positive changes continue to happen for all of us. Focusing on the local is still a good path in my opinion.

As I look on to the time ahead with Rapid Growth but also as a citizen of this city, I pledge to be a better listener, since it is clear that now is the time to engage in dialogue, not retreat in silence. Paul showed me the power of embracing our vulnerabilities in the quest to be more honest and open. 

The cities of the world are where we are seeing people begin to create policy changes that better reflect the realities of our shifting culture. I just hope Washington will one day listen more fully. Until then, we have each other to help figure this out together. 

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Publisher & Lifestyle Editor
Rapid Growth

*Author’s note: At this point in the conversation with Paul, I had figured out who Molly is and the pronoun’s of she, her, hers were appropriate here. But as a form of courtesy, it is always polite to ask a transgender person (or anyone for that matter) their preferred pronouns. Remember it is about respect and that is a great place to start in building a more welcoming community. 

Image of Tommy Allen courtesy of Terry Johnston Photography. Image from "Transparent" courtesy of Amazon Prime. 
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