You know that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, that’s bull shit! The wrong words, at the wrong time, can be emotionally devastating. Even those of us that are often considered strong and independent have our breaking point. I’m no exception. As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I recently had one of those moments when just one word from a hater sent me into a tail spin that lasted for days.
It hasn’t been easy adjusting to all the cultural differences in India. The fact is, as much as I try to learn and adapt, I’m still an outsider here. I’m reminded of it every day when people stare at me like some sort of monstrosity or don’t understand what I’m saying. Even if they do understand me, they often don’t understand my intent. I am constantly misunderstood and judged. It has been far more difficult to make friends here than I ever imagined. I have finally managed to make a handful of friends, but it’s still a huge challenge to try not to offend each other or misjudge the other person’s behavior. I have been trying very hard to not be overly sensitive to such things, but the other day a hater said something to me that felt like a punch in the face! Here is what happened.
My boyfriend invited me to join him at a fun work event of his on a Saturday. I decided to go so that we could spend a little time together and because I just wanted to be supportive. I was excited that he was proud enough of me to include me in the event. I knew I would be meeting his boss and colleagues, so I took extra care to dress appropriately and to look nice so that I would make a good impression. When I arrived at the venue he took me around and introduced me to his co-workers. Most of them were very polite and seemed genuinely happy to meet me. But there was one woman who obviously was not.
Kirti said to her, “I want to introduce you to my girlfriend, Beth.” I reached out my hand and she shook it tentatively. Then she looked at Kirti and said something I will never forget.
“Seriously?” She asked him, her mouth gaping partially open. Silence hung in the air as I fought back tears. It wasn’t said with pleasant enthusiasm, like the tone you would use when someone surprises you with good news. It was said with disdain and rudeness. I knew the difference, even in India.
“Yes, seriously”, Kirti replied before we exited the awkward conversation. Work was calling him so he apologized for having to leave me unattended, but I understood. I watched him walk away and tears started to fill my eyes. What is wrong with me, I wondered? I usually don’t give a rat’s ass about other people’s opinions. But I had tried so hard to make a favorable impression and I wanted Kirti to feel proud of me. Yet she had crushed my hopes, and my spirit, in one single word.
I found a safe corner out-of-the-way and just let the tears flow freely for a while. I was angry and heartbroken. I felt rejected and judged. Yes, we have some significant differences, including age, culture and skin color, but that didn’t excuse her rudeness. I have to be honest. I found myself thinking some very harsh thoughts about Indian people right then. But I soon realized that I was stereotyping and guilty of doing the exact same thing that she had just done to me. Instead, I banished the thoughts from my head and tried to find forgiveness within me. Before long, Kirti found me, gave me a hug and reminded me how much he loved me. He tried to tell me that she was shocked by my beauty, which is why she said “Seriously?” As much as his efforts comforted and amused me, I knew better. I tried to let it go, but something like that can dent your spirit for a while. So I ask you, please think before you speak. Please treat others like you would like to be treated, and please try to show empathy to outsiders. One kind or rude word, can make all the difference.