I went on my first official trip as an official at the U.S. Interests Section a couple of weeks ago. Our family has taken trips outside of Havana – not many, because of the requirement that we request permission to travel at least two weeks before our trip – but this was my first trip scheduled for work. It’s probably not cool of me to write this, but I was over-the-top excited to get to take an official trip.
Now, it would be outside the bounds of my work life to write on this blog about the substantive part of the trip, but I had to let you know it was an official trip to explain the presence of two other people who figure into the story I want to tell you today.
My colleague and I, as we left for the trip, compared notes once more about the logistical plans for the day. I had heard her speak to our driver, who is one of my favorite drivers, and I had a minor concern.
“What did you call our driver?” I asked her. “I thought I knew his name, but what I call him is not what you just called him.”
“What do you think his name is?” she asked. “I call him Pelayo.” (Note: I changed his name(s) for this post.)
“Oh, wow. I call him José Luis,” I said. “Those aren’t even close!”
We both looked at each other with consternation.
Interestingly, maybe because we have a great working relationship and genuine respect for each other, neither of us defaulted to “You must be wrong,” or “I must be wrong.” Without putting it in terms this clear, she and I both assumed that we were both wrong. For the next two hours, we spoke to the driver without using his name. I reached forward at one point and touched his arm to gently get his attention. My colleague addressed him in a slightly louder tone of voice and in Spanish, which was a clear signal that she was speaking to him.
When we arrived at our hotel, I whispered to her that I would simply watch him fill in his registration form and get his name. She nodded. We had an eager (and tall) bellhop, though, and as he strode off with our bags, there was no good reason to hang around. Despairingly, I left our driver at the counter, filling in his card with who knows what name.
“I can’t ask him his name now,” I whispered to my colleague as we walked down the corridor. “I’ve known him too long. He’s driven me to several events in town. I just won’t be able to call him by name anymore, but how embarrassing that I’ve been calling him José Luis all this time!” She agreed. Much too late to ask, for either of us. We were sunk.
Back down in the lobby a few minutes later, though, I got a second chance to peek at his card when I approached the desk. It sat propped next to the computer where we had just signed in. I glanced at the card; my eyes widened slightly. Then I smiled.
My colleague and I had both been right. I had his first name right. She had his last name right. He is José Luis Pelayo. The fact that his last name sounds as if it could be a first name had thrown us off.
A minor moment in a couple of days packed with activity and much more important events, and yet something about this stuck with me.
I found it reassuring that my colleague and I both assumed that both of us had misunderstood his name. How refreshing, in this age of instant blame (conveniently, almost never aimed at ourselves), to work with others who assume that if the team is wrong, more than one person is culpable.
Yet, as reassured as I was by that show of loyalty to the team, I also wondered why we had been so quick to assume we were wrong, when in fact we were both right. Was it a reaction we’d become conditioned to as women? Or, as I’m more likely to think, was it the societal idea that only one person can be correct in any given situation?
So many stories these days get presented as issues with no moral flexibility, no logically consistent manner of thinking through the topic unless it results in believing “my way.” Wouldn’t it be funny to find out that, after all, more of us can be right at a time than we think? If we realized that you can call for justice, and I can call for mercy, and we’re ultimately calling for the same thing?
Sure, our leaders make it look impossible. How can we possibly unite ourselves with people in our neighborhood, workplace, or church who don’t completely agree with us if Congress and the President can’t do it? (Although honestly, I’ve come to the opinion that we need to model good behavior for our politicians rather than expect them to do it for us.)
Additionally, it’s exhausting always having to make room for more than one viewpoint. Sometimes all we want to do is settle on one true thing and be done with it, right? I know that makes my life much easier sometimes. Unfortunately, often life won’t cooperate with us and leave “settled” things settled. We get to know someone of a different opinion, and we start to see his point of view. We move to a new city, or state, or country, where customs are different. We go hear a speaker; we read a book; we watch a movie. Something clicks and we start seeing things from a new perspective. Our “true thing” seems challenged, or maybe even disproved.
I’m wondering now, in the wake of the José Luis/Pelayo moment, if allowing for the possibility that more than one person can be right, while at the same time not doubting the validity of what you believe, is a viable path forward for us. I need to hope that could be so.