Walking the Talk

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What happens when you don’t fit in with the rest of the school?

What do you do when someone tells a racial joke or ridicules a vulnerable person? Do you go along to get along? Do you make a big deal out of it and chew out the other person, putting them in their place? What is the right way to handle it?

red fish
When these two fish get together, do they gossip about the others?

In a job long ago, one of my well-liked colleagues told a racial joke. The first time, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t laugh, but I felt bad just being near the co-worker. I was ashamed to think that my behavior could have been considered agreement, and so the next time he told a racial joke, I was prepared. I told him that I didn’t think it was funny, and left. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I didn’t act like it was acceptable.

sting rays
How do you fit in with the fish when you’re really a different species? Perhaps you find a kindred spirit and swim on your own.

Fast forward to now. Someone I deal with frequently at work ridiculed someone I knew who was struggling. I was so shocked the first time that I didn’t know what to say. I think she was trying to bond the way many women do through catty remarks and knowing looks. I didn’t find it consolidating; I saw it as divisive. The second time she ridiculed this person we both knew, I stopped her. I told her that I saw things differently and that I didn’t see the harm in showing the other person a little compassion. She’d had a hard time and was struggling. I told the woman a little of her backstory, hoping she would see things from a different perspective. The woman I was talking to said that she hadn’t thought of it that way, and that was the end of the discussion. Perhaps I should have reacted differently, but it felt so wrong. She is a usually a decent human being; her disrespect for the other person hurt me.

These trout stick together. It’s nearing spawning season, so some have the red markings. Still, they are compatible and stick together.

Did I do the right thing? I don’t know. Probably neither of the people I confronted thought the same way about me again. They preferred people who were just like them, and I obviously wasn’t. They avoided me as much as they could after that. How do you stay true to your ideals and authentic in your relationships when you are working amidst people who have such different values?

A fish alone is vulnerable. A person without allies is too. They are often bullied and picked on, just because it’s easy.

I could say the lost relationships were no big deal. In the first case, that was certainly true. The man who told the racial jokes was a real jerk, and I’ll never miss him. That job was a long time ago, and I don’t look back. The other relationship is different. This is a person I see several times a week and continue to deal with professionally.

Should I have behaved differently? Is there another way to stay in my integrity in the face of such behavior? I’d love your advice in the comments.

sting rays
I’d feel better if I had others to group with!


  1. I applaud how you handled the situations, especially the woman as sometimes people just don’t think spherically about what others may or may not be enduring and they judge/comment without knowing the back story. You made a difference, a positive one. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I understand where you are coming from. I feel “different” most of the time for a few different reasons. One of them is I am so passionate about my love for animals-my blog:
    and I realize not everyone feels that way. But along the lines of what your experiences were at work, I have had similar situations. I think I usually try to say something to defend the other person if I feel they are being talked about or put down unjustly. For instance, sometimes a co-worker will cut down another
    co-worker because they don’t have a Degree. To me that is unjustified. A Degree does not make one person better than another. Another example is co-workers cutting down shy co-workers. What is wrong with being shy? The list can go on. We probably all experience this. The right thing to do is to speak up.


  3. I think any time you can stop that energy suck (which is really what it is–negativity) in a calm, simple, non-confrontational way, you’ve scored a little victory for light and love. Well done:).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad to hear you thought I was non-confrontational. Some of my friends couldn’t believe I said anything – seeing that as confrontation. It felt right, though… Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The second you posed the question (before you presented behavioral choices), I said to myself, “I’m the worst! Yelling does NOTHING to further tolerance and understanding.” But that’s what I do. What you did is exactly how I would describe the ideal response. Treating others with respect, you kept your values intact and gave them both the opportunity to learn and grow. The rest is up to them. The fact that it’s created distance with this colleague is unfortunate and stressful. I’m sorry you’re feeling a sense of loss and anxiety about it. But what else could you do? The right thing is often difficult, and sometimes costly. That’s why it takes strength and courage, which you have. Kudos.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wrote that reply and thought…something’s missing. The missing piece is, I had to get to the point where I put me expressing my uniqueness at the fore. Instead of my usual, I’ll slap myself down and make myself small to keep the peace with this person. That piece is extremely hard when there’s imbalance in the relationship. I’m blessed in that respect, I am on my own and retired. So it is easier for me.

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  6. Now that I am old (I turned 58 a week ago!) I tell my truth in a straight forward way without the raw emotion that I used to feel.
    I have always been so hurt by racist jokes and epithets. The energy behind that stuff swirls and makes my head spin. I actually feel pain.
    So it has been a big deal for me, in the last couple of years, to able to find my centre and speak from there, truthfully. I see a musical scale now when I am in those situations now. If I react in kind, the key is either too high or too low, either way, it’s dissonance. So I find the right key, hear the harmony in my head, and speak from there.
    Well, it’s a new tool so I am not brilliant at it yet. It’s helping though.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like a good way to imagine what’s going on! And yes, I’m hitting middle age as well. Congratulations! I also find it painful to lie. It makes it hard, if not impossible, to be properly diplomatic. It is another instance of the energy hurting to much to allow it to abide in me. Like the racist jokes, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have no advice Karel but I can tell you something that made a difference in my life in these situations. I read something a few years back by Maya Angelou that had to do with her walk being congruent with her beliefs. She refused to allow negative or hate speech in her home because she said the energy of it lodged in her sofa cushions, drapes, etc. and therefore lingered in her space. That comment from her changed my life in regards to having my actions be congruent with my speech and beliefs and not having that energy in my space.

    About 4 years ago I was having lunch with a bunch of my women cousins whom I love dearly. Our beliefs in life are very different, nevertheless we have found a way to be together and really enjoy each other. I am the one who set the boundaries though, and it was very scary. During lunch one made a comment about the “niggers” in the white house. It took my breath away. I told her and the group I could not be a part of that kind of conversation where my brother and sister were being put down and that I was going to excuse myself for a few moments because I could not stomach that type of talk. There was total silence at the table and as I got up to dismiss myself one of the cousins said, “please don’t go. We will not have these types of discussions in your presence any longer.” I thanked them and sat back down. I don’t know, Karel, they may make fun of me when I’m not around, but that’s their stuff, not mine. I knew what was required of me was to set the standard and the boundary and it was up to them to respond.
    We have wonderful lunches every time I go home and that type of conversation is never heard in my presence.
    I did not feel self-righteous when I did it, I just knew I needed to take a stand, in love, for my values.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had a similar experience recently…only it was one of the students working for me who made racist and sexist remarks. (He also had a lousy attitude and work ethic.) I couldn’t confront him myself, but when my adviser asked if I wanted to hire him back on in the fall, I had to tell her…and she “had a conversation with him” that left him in tears. Then he came to talk to me, obviously feeling betrayed. It was an awful situation all around, and I don’t think I handled it properly, but I told him the truth and I told my adviser the truth. That was all I could do…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sound reasonable to me. Perhaps your adviser handled it with a heavy hand and made it worse than it needed to be. If there are no consequences for inappropriate behavior, people don’t have an opportunity to learn what is acceptable. I respect your desire to be honest without being confrontational.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Of course! And it blames you for bring sensitive rather than taking responsibility for saying something in poor taste. That doesn’t sound like Someone I’d want on my team.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Personally, I feel like you did the right thing. Do you really want to be friends with someone whose values are so completely different? The one I would suggest, though, is to also have compassion for the one who told the joke. Prejudice is a result of poor programming. I wonder what their life was like that they felt the need to lift themselves up by putting others down. However, that’s not to say you should continue to accept the poor behavior….especially in this case. I mean, if she’s ridiculing that person, what’s to stop her from making fun of you or anyone else?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As for the man who told the racist joke, he is from a redneck culture and no doubt that is how he was raised. The woman, too, for that matter. I think it’s very clear who gossips viciously when no one is looking and I may be a target now. She may have been raised with women who see their social world as a competitive hierarchy. She. Are people ever expected to move past their up-bringing to be more accepting of those who are different?


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