Tag Archives: Starbucks

Starbucks Empathy

I like to hang at the local Starbucks. When I sent a friend a video clip of its environment, with the hustle and bustle and music, they said, “How can you work with so much noise?”.

I told them that I am one of those people that work better with distractions. Some, for example, like to have the TV one while they work. The Starbucks has my attractions: coffee, music and an occasional conversation.

I meet interesting people at the coffees shop. There’s Vinny from New England, for instance. I discuss the baseball standings with him because he’s an avid Boston Red Sox fan. I am a follower of their down and out rival that shares a division with them: the Baltimore Orioles.

Henry is an older man I have not seen for a while. When I do, we discuss his birth country of Finland. His real name is “Heikki”.  Henry was born during World War 2, and with the chaos of that conflict, lived in several countries in Europe before landing in the United States.  I spent several years in Finland.

I struck up conversations with these men because of the baseball caps they were wearing. Vinny was wearing his Red Sox cap when we met. Henry had on  lid that read “Sisu”. It is a colloquial Finnish term loosely translated into English as “guts. I knew he must be related to Finland somehow because no one would wear such a cap unless they dug it out of a bargain bin somewhere.

In my last post I discussed the internal war we are having in America caused by enemies dehumanizing one another.  Researcher Brene’ Brown advises that one of the antidotes  to  this general-level hate is to move in closer and get to know people on the other side as individuals.  I believe she is on to something.

A close friend and I were discussing yesterday how we have worked with or met with people from other races, sexual orientations, religious beliefs or political stances and gotten along just fine. We both have even made friends with the folks we have encountered. How did this happen?

“People are hard to hate close up,” says Brown.

The other day I was walking to the Starbucks when an African-American man who appeared homeless (he was pushing a cart) saw my tee with a coffee-related theme on it and said, “Like your shirt.” I told him my sister-in-law gets them for me. Although we didn’t know one another and obviously came from different backgrounds, we had an an instant connection.

Right after him a young, burly looking white fellow with curly black hair and an accompanying beard stopped me and gave me some advice. He was half my age and probably thought this old coot needed it. “Get some water up ahead,” he said. Instead of feeling insulted that he must think I am an old  boob, I thanked him. I appreciated his concern. (I did wonder if I should upgrade my wardrobe though. Did he think “I” was homeless due to my raggy attire?)

In any case, the people I run into on the way to and in the Starbucks share things in common and we go out of our way to connect on that basis. Coffee shops are places where I seem to be able to exercise my empathy with folks.

Even today I noticed a couple of minority men in Air Force uniforms come into the store. I knew they were sergeants because they of the stripes on their sleeves. However, one had more of them.

I approached this African American man and asked the difference. He told me that he was a tech sergeant and the other was a master sergeant. It was trivia, but it was nice for this old white guy to connect with this soldier. I respect the military for a lot of  reasons.  One of them is that I have found the people in our armed services themselves are very respectful toward their fellow human beings.

I recall meeting one of my best friends in recent years at a Starbucks in another town. In fact, it’s where we always hooked up.

Tim is a former triathlete who became disabled after developing some physical issues. We had a lot of things in common.  We shared the same first name. (My nickname from him is “Tim 2”.)  We liked sports. We had similar personal issues. We both were followers of Jesus Christ.

The inability to walk a mile in another person’s shoes is at the heart of a lot of woes in our society.  For instance, one of the reasons sexual predators do what they do is because they lack empathy, A recent Time Magazine’s cover story describes how therapists working with sex offenders are trying to teach these men to understand how their victims felt at the time of the crime and the effect on them later.

While it is debatable as to whether or not sexual offenders can be cured, minimally they need to confront how they dehumanized another person in order to keep them from re-offending.  Lisa Anderson, an attorney who represents rape victims, told Time that “it’s hard for me to believe that someone could violently ignore the will of another and then be taught not to cross that line. But if it’s possible to teach them empathy, then that should be mandatory.”

Is it possible to learn empathy in this digital age?  The physical and emotional distance that is part of computerized communication makes it difficult.

One offender told Time of how the nature of computerized communication in chat rooms led to his crime:

“It led to a devaluation of whoever was on the other side,” he says. “They weren’t a person. They were a means to an end.

I never actually hurt anyone physically. But I left an emotional holocaust.”

To empathize with others, we have to find what Jesse Jackson called “common ground.” In a speech to the 1988 Democratic National Convention he said:

“Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly. Whether you’re a hawk or a dove, you’re just a bird living in the same environment, in the same world.”

We can empathize with others because we not only share the same planet, but we also were created by the same God.

I will expand on her idea in my next post.

 

 

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Filed under Civility, Communication, culture, culture war, friendship, Homeless, Jesus Christ, spirituality, Temper of the Times, Uncategorized, United States

Garbled messages

I was sitting in my local Starbucks this morning when a soft rock song with a gentle sound and a male singer with a haunting voice was played. It moved me and I wanted to identify the song so I could listen to it again, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t understand the lyrics. I thought I caught part of a sentence and “Googled” it, but never found what I was looking for. I finally gave up.

Shortly after that, an old age pensioner walked by. He was wearing a T-shirt which included a title or name on it, but the complete moniker was concealed by the jacket he was wearing. I was interested because the letters I DID see were identical to ones belonging to the name of a city where I used to live, a place located in Europe.

The old fellow’s jacket bore a lion insignia. This animal is the symbol of the country where this town is located. However, the term “Polizei” was emblazoned next to the lion and a quick Internet search told me that it is the German word for “police”. My city is in Finland. Even so, I was intrigued.

The man passed by me on his way out and as he did a woman walked in. I immediately caught the pleasant scent of her fragrance, but she moved so far away I couldn’t make her out. I was wondering if the attractiveness of the smell was representative of the person, but I couldn’t tell.

It occurred to me after these three consecutive frustrating incidents that a lot of communication gets easily distorted. In my case, the messages were garbled by obstructions in my line of sight and hearing.

I could have sought to overcome these obstacles. For example, I could have asked the senior citizen if he had lived in Finland or asked a barista if they knew the name of the song I had heard. Further, I might have moved closer to the lady with the sweet aroma, but of course that would have been creepy. (As it turned out, she DID walk in my direction and I found that her redolence was more distinctive than her appearance.) In other words, I could have sought to clarify my end of the communication.

I used to teach academic writing to engineers and one of my mantras was that it was not the responsibility of the receiver of their communications to have to interpret their them. I made it clear to these budding stars of technology that it was THEIR job to be clear.

Lack of clarity is what frustrates me when I listen to politicians in this day and age. For instance, I read the following on Yahoo this morning.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate all issues related to obstruction of justice in the events leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This post just added to my earlier frustration I experienced from the incomprehensible communications by people at Starbucks. I knew that the folks at Starbucks did not intend to send me garbled messages. In fact, they were not even aware of their own communication or of me.

However, given the political environment we live in today and Madam Feinstein’s affiliation, I could only presume that she planned her use of the alarming phrase “obstruction of justice”. She was going after her political opponent, i.e., the current president of the United States.

This article prompted my response. I wrote the following in Yahoo’s reaction section of the post:

Exactly what “justice” does Feinstein say is being obstructed? Justice is defined as “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals.” (Merriam Webster for kids). What crime was committed? If she is referring to Trump seeking to influence Comey, how is that obstruction? POTUS is in charge of administration of justice and the FBI director is his subordinate in that task.

All the honorable senator’s statement did was raise a bunch of questions. It is her responsibility in my view to answer those questions for me in her public statement. However, I realize this is too much to ask from a politician. As a class, they are almost always purposely vague.

When it comes to my own issues, especially on subjects of importance to me, I can’t be like Senator Feinstein. I have to seek to define them as precisely as possible. I tried to do this as part of a writing exercise while I was the Starbucks.

Author Julia Cameron suggests that writers have a dialogue with their “Inner Writer”. She advises to write two letters; one is to be written from the “Inner Writer” to me and the other is by me to my “Inner Writer”. The task is to clarify my own fears and complaints regarding writing so that I can reassure myself that I have the “right to write” (the title of her book).

One of the problems my Inner Writer came up with is that I feel as if I have no message. My “self” replied:

“If you want my advice, get with God. Get your message from Him. Then write that message.”

In context, I realized as I did this exercise that I felt I am not allowed to be a writer. My response to Inner Writer was this:

You are not only allowed to be what God made you to be. You are encouraged to be what He made you to be.  In fact, it might be said that you are commanded to be what He made you to be. You are asking for a purpose from God. If writing is it, then be a writer. If not, then be whatever else He tells you to be.

One of the problems we have this side of heaven is that messages from God are garbled. The famous “love chapter” in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, likens our understanding of His communications in this life to a person looking in a flawed mirror.  As with my attempt to see the lady at Starbucks, my effort to perception of God is dimmed by our distance from each other.

However, I have had a taste of His presence and He indeed desires mine. My prayers are a sweet incense to Him. Thus, I have to keep trying to find a way through the muck to get to Him and hear what He has to say to me. Making sense of His messages to me are crucial.  He’s not a fellow customer at Starbucks. He’s the living God.

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Filed under Christianity, Communication, Donald Trump, language, politics, religion, Uncategorized, writing

(Slightly) Annotated Predictions for 2017

1)The US government will release some year-end statistics regarding things within their purview with the intention of reflecting their positive handling of those said items. My take: “Statistics are for losers..” (Attributed to many sports personages.)

2)There will be some major announcement regarding contact with aliens, i.e.the space people, not the illegal ones. It could come in the form of a confirmation of intelligible radio signals from outer space or the Trump administration seeking to “trump” Hillary and produce bodies from Area 51. My take: “We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.” (William Shatner)

3) A  relatively unknown figure will emerge to lead a rebellion in the Democratic Party against the old fogies currently in charge. This middle-aged person will be a centrist opposed to the left-wing bomb throwers who made all the noise during the last election, but had their influence muted by the Machine. My take: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” (Will Rogers)

4) The 2017 word of the year will be “kitchen debate”.  This is actually a term we will revive from the 50s. It was then that Soviet premier  Nikita Krushchev  and American vice president Richard Nixon engaged in public arguments in a model American home in Moscow. They became known as the “kitchen debates”. Current Russian president alluded to these debates at the end of 2016 when he said that he refused to engage Barack Obama in “kitchen diplomacy”.  I assumed Putin was referring to the fact these interactions between Krushchev and Nixon were mainly viewed as a publicity stunt. Donald Trump will continue this kind of diplomacy with bombastic tweets regarding foreign leaders and governments. My take: “If you can’t take the heat, get our of the kitchen.” (Harry S. Truman)

5) Starbucks seems to be taking over the world. However, their bubble will begin to burst due to subtle changes in customer service and so-called “rewards” that have made them more like a pricey McDonalds. My take: You’re slipping Howard.” When we began Starbucks, what I wanted to try to do was to create a set of values, guiding principles, and culture.” (Howard Schultz)

6) Coverage for health care will remain as confusing as ever, if not more so, since the Republicans are going to be fiddling with Obamacare. My take: Find a financial navigator who will guide you through the morass.“America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” (Walter Cronkite)

7) After an election period in which many Americans hold young people in disdain, calling them “snowflakes” and decrying their need for safe spaces, some Millennial will become an icon to their fellows and all of the nation because of their courage. This unlikely hero or heroine will completely change youth culture and be universally admired. My take: “The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.” (Kurt Cobain)

8) With the rise of terrorism incidents and uncontrolled crime in cities like Chicago, Americans will mimic the Germans and begin to form vigilante groups to do the job our federal, state and local governments won’t do. My take: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” (John Phillip Curran, 19th century Irish politician and orator)

9) Though Millennials (ages 18-34) now are the largest living generation, surpassing Baby Boomers (ages 51-69) by about half a million according to Pew Research, the latter will not go quietly. Expect loud reactions from older people over the outrages constantly circulated in the media these days. These folks are twice as likely to be conservative than their youthful counterparts. That’s no surprise given the old adage “if you are young and not a liberal you have no heart, but if you are old and not a conservative you have no head.” Though conservatives are generally less likely to protest and just go about their business, the Trump victory in the recent presidential election revealed that Baby Boomers are not going to sit on their hands and watch the culture go down the toilet. My take:” Do not go gentle into that good night,.old age should burn and rave at close of day;
rage, rage against the dying of the light.” -Dylan Thomas.

10) I predict I will be wrong on at least half of these predictions. Therefore, instead of living in the past or future I intend to follow best selling author Brendon Burchard’s approach and slow time down, focusing on today and the moment, taking deepr breaths and seeking to be a better person.  My take: “A great man is a torch in the darkness, a beacon in superstition’s night, an inspiration and a prophecy.” (Robert Green Ingersoll, 19th century leader of the “Free Thought” movement, which  stressed science and reason over religion, tradition and authority.)

Happy New Year!

 

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