“That’ll teach you.” That was the response my mother gave me, laughing, when I called years ago to express my absolute horror at how my foyer looked when firefighters rushed in to put out a small fire in our home. Okay, I was whining but that’s allowed sometimes when you’re talking to your mother.
Of course I was grateful no one was hurt and the damage could be repaired.
Looking back, I know I should have been more focused on that. But something else happened that night. My vanity button had been pushed.
When those firefighters came in, they were greeted with huge, jagged strips of wallpaper, hanging half torn from the foyer walls. I think I actually saw the pieces fluttering wildly as they passed by. It was ugly.
The day before, my husband and I were prepping for a professional crew to come in and put up a new design. We didn’t finish what we started.
My mother’s “That’ll teach you” still echoes in my head today. Keep your home in order. If you’re going to start a job, finish it. It was one of those teachable moments.
We’ve all had them. Sometimes we are on the receiving end. Other times we are the ones who must deliver the message.
I recall something that happened at a local grocery store years ago.
As a former TV news anchor here in Rochester, it’s not uncommon for people to stop and say hello when I am out and about. I’m a talker too so it’s cool with me.
I was at the service counter being helped by a young, white college aged man. A woman about my age stopped and said she and her husband liked our newscasts. As I was about to thank her, she added “Yes, my husband always asks when is that colored lady going to be on?”
That stopped me in my tracks and I saw a similar look of disbelief in the eyes of the young guy at the counter. Did she say colored lady?
I immediately thought “make this a teachable moment.” I even reminded myself to smile as I thanked her for watching. Then I shared “colored” is an archaic term that isn’t used anymore. Some even find it offensive.
I added if reference really needs to be made about race, she and her husband could use African American, black or even person of color.
The woman got teary eyed. She apologized saying she didn’t know. It was genuine. I accepted it. Her intent was what mattered. We even hugged before she left. My hope was that she had a “teachable moment” to share with her husband when she got home.
And so it is with the USA TODAY story recently about racist photos found in old college yearbooks from around the country. This institution was included. RIT President David Munson was quick to strongly condemn the photos saying in effect, they should have been unacceptable then as they are today. RIT made it a teachable moment.
A campus discussion a few days later allowed people to share their feelings and there was talk of how to educate others so they “get it” too.
My personal hope is that the next time anyone thinks about dressing up in costume depicting another race, they’ll realize it isn’t funny. I also hope if you see your own friends doing it, you’ll have the courage to speak up and call it for what it is.
In life we are going to come across people who will say or do things we deem offensive or hurtful. It’s easy to become angry and upset. We immediately want to assume the worst. Sometimes it’s warranted, but sometimes they simply do not know. We need to assess the intention. We have a choice in how we respond. It just might require a teachable moment.