Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pagans Coming Out and the Ripple Effect of Being the 1st or Only Representive

It was December and the middle of the Christmas rush. We were doing a daily huddle to keep the team leads informed and in good spirits during this crazy time for the store. We'd just finished recognizing those who'd done an “amazing” job and we were moving on to “vibe” (this is where we make personal connections with guests that makes them more satisfied with their service and hopefully creates a loyalty to our brand) moments with the guest.

Everything was completely normal. I was happy to be in the huddle and I felt part of something larger, not the way we do in religion, but the way we do when we're a huge team sharing an ordeal together. No matter where you stand on Christmas, there is only one retail worker experience and it's agony. We need eachother's support to make it. We hadn't gotten to the sales goals or stats and already I was ready to dive in to do my part.

Our “vibing” moments was going along normally, and one woman shared her ability to sell a store credit card, which pleased her guest because it will save her 5% on all purchases in the store every time she uses it. We were about to move on to the next person's “vibe” moment when one of our bosses said to her:

“No not that story, you have to tell the one about the witch!”

The woman whose addressed looks. At first I think they are using witch to mean unreasonable demanding and mean guest. It fits with our vibing agenda to turn around potentially bad reviews into positive ones by dealing well with hostile people. I was surprised though that our boss would ever refer to a guest as a 'witch'.

Then the woman addressed shoots me a nervous glance and my stomach drops. See this woman works in HR usually so she knows the story she is being prompted to tell may be touchy. She also knows via our facebook friend relation that I am pagan. It's an open secret in store, as I think she pointed it out quietly to our other HR representative and to our owner so they could all be pc. But I've never actually shared in person with anyone at the store that I'm pagan, I don't see how it's appropriate really.

So she begins hesitantly never looking at me after the first guilty glance, “I was working in grocery when a woman approached me and asked for me to help her find spicy peppers. We're looking for these peppers and I'm trying to gather more information asking, how spicy and if there's a certain type of pepper she's looking for?”

“The woman just says, 'No it doesn't matter, the spicier the better. They just have to be really hot.'”

“So I respond, 'Wow you must be making so crazy chili or do you just like really hot foods?'”

“And the woman says, 'No I'm a witch and I need the peppers for a spell. Doesn't matter what kind just that they are as hot as possible'”

Noise immediately breaks out in the huddle and our Hr lady must stop telling her story to wait for the ruckus to die down. She's a little flushed. Half embarrassed I think and half enjoying everyone's reaction. If anyone had been paying attention to me they may have noticed I am the only one in the group not to react at all, because I am frozen now. I want to leave huddle as quickly as possible, because in this instant it becomes clear again that we are not really a unified team, not in the way I was feeling before anyhow. How could I possibly fit into a group that reacts like a bunch of classroom bullies the second witchcraft is brought up?

Our boss is nodding to the huddle, and making a joke about how we better hope we get service right for this woman or she might put a spell on us too! She makes it clear that our HR is a true professional for dealing with this woman. Even though she's just a normal lady and the fact that our HR lady basically badgered what she wanted the peppers for out of her doesn't seem to count. Our desire as a corporate to “make connections” with the guest in this case results in learning something that is apparently hilarious and/or outrageous about our 'guest'.

I've been sitting on this experience for almost two months now because it was too emotional to tackle. I think I've come to some conclusions.

The Good Stuff:
-My HR lady was embarrassed to tell the story. It has to count for something that at least human resources knows it might not be a great idea
-My HR lady did not immediately think of this moment to share as her “vibing” with a guest, which means, that no matter how unusual the instant may have been, it's not something that she's been mulling on or disturbed enough by to stand out in her mind.
-Even the bigots where were making fun of this woman felt comfortable talking about witchcraft, no one found the subject taboo or potentially dangerous like invoking the devil or inherently evil. The PR campaign to normalize the modern witch has done that much.
-The team's reaction could have been worse. People were generally surprised or amused no one seemed angry or upset.

The Bad Stuff:
-That anyone thought this was an example to tell in huddle is of course bad. If someone hunting for beads for a rosary had come in would anyone have found that worth telling?
-That one of our bosses feels comfortable to joke like that in a large mixed work group on the clock is kind of terrible. She's making fun of a guest and a religious practice in one fell swoop. I don't make fun of people who ask for a latte without espresso after all and that's far more ridiculous than wanting spicy peppers.

A personal reaction I had that shocked me at the time, but I've been able to reflect on now, is that I was furious with the woman in the story for telling anyone she was a witch and that the peppers were a spell. I was horrified with how angry I was at her. I mean it's her right to say what she wants about her faith or in this case practice to anyone at any time. I'm for National Pagan Coming Out Day. If you can safely come out do it loud and do it proud! Let them see the whole person the mother, worker, friend, volunteer, work out friend, who also is pagan.

And here this woman is 'coming out' as it were or 'being out' (what they don't tell you about coming out is that you have to do it over and over and that it's never easier or safer or more ideal) in the store and I'm angry about it. I have no right to feel that way period, but it's particularly hypocritical because of how much I advocate pagans to come out if they can.

I was dissecting her practice and finding it wanting based off of a three minute conversation I hadn't had with the woman! And I knew I was being a terrible person and doing everything I say I won't but I couldn't seem to stop this spiral in my mind. Below all this vitriol was the simple 'why do I feel this way?', 'what set this off?', and 'can this woman really be the core of so much anger?'

It took me days to realize that I wasn't mad at the woman, not really. And I don't really think any of those terrible things about her practice or what she did. Taking the time to breathe and mediate allowed me to open up my empathic center and to see literally hundreds of different perfectly reasonable scenarios for her actions. Because her actions were 100% reasonable. How many blog posts do we see all the time where we hear this story from the woman looking for peppers' perspective? The hypothetical person often considers the consequences of their actions. They have to because our number one question has to be: will talking about this put me or those I love in danger?

One thing I haven't seen in these blogs is “what happens when there is a fellow pagan in the audience when a group of non-pagans tries to talk out their experience”. For the record I was angry, upset, and helpless in that situation to address the hurt because my boss was condoning/encouraging negative reactions to this outing. In a lot of ways I'm glad she did choose to 'be out' because it told me something about these people I might not have found out until after we were friends.

I'm mad for her and I'm mad for myself. That a conversation which took maybe minutes is all the representation we as pagans have. It's a huge responsibility she took on to be that pagan face and now her words have to stand up to people who’ve made up their minds already, in an out of context situation, basically rigged so she can lose. She's been strawmanned and she'll probably never know it. How brave of her to reach out given that these are the very least negative consequences that could have happened.

Beyond learning something ugly about my boss and some of my co-workers, this has further solidified my extreme distaste with the hospitality/retail capitalist system in the US (and probably other countries). But that's a mammoth, I'm going to have to tackle in a separate post.

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