Recently a football player said, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about ‘routes.’” His name is Cam Newton. I don’t know what team he plays for, or anything else about him. I don’t know his age, where he was raised or what his life experience was.
Apparently his comments cost him a great deal. He became an instant demon / enemy. Woman Hater.
The Washington Post reports, “Newton had drawn a sharp rebuke from journalism circles, and a league spokesman said his comments were “just plain wrong and disrespectful.”
His words were interpreted over and over by many advertisers, the NFL, women sportscasters and the press. I have only seen responses indicating high level distress using labels that reflect the statements above suggesting all the ways that he was wrong. One response I saw from a pioneer woman sportscaster, “It took me back 40 years”.
This is a wonderful example of what happens when we instantly end communication the moment we hear something we don’t like and believe what we think is true. Newton said something that the ‘world’ didn’t like. What was heard by all was not what he intended them to hear. Criticism. The response was to write him off, he no longer had a role to play in the ‘dialogue’ (as there was no dialogue). He was labeled ‘bad and wrong’, and became responsible for everyone’s distress.
I wonder what would have happened if the woman he said this to (and the press) had listened differently. Instead of instantly making an enemy of Newton, if she at least took 30 seconds to ask him what he meant by his comments. We will now never know what he thought was funny about it. Maybe he actually never heard a woman say that before. Is it really so awful that he thought it was funny? Does it automatically mean he doesn’t respect women? Maybe he doesn’t, and maybe he does. No one asked him.
The collective ‘we’ mistakenly believe that his words are the cause of our upset, and want him to apologize so we can feel better. I don’t hear any voices (in the collective ‘we’) suggesting that we had anything to do with the interpretation being reported as the ‘truth’ and only meaning of the actual words he said. We will likely never know what he meant.
Have we missed an opportunity here? If the need for respect is at the root of the distress that so many people are feeling, could they see a way to possibly teach a young man the impact of his words with a sense of respect? While I understand the distress, I am not certain how the ‘punishment’ in any way helps anyone. He may not say those words again. My guess he is doing it for fear of losing his income (safety). Fear is not the same as respect. That need is not likely getting met by anybody.
Say This Not That
Next time someone says something that you really (even really, really) don’t like, take a moment to breathe.
Before you respond, consider these two things:
1. What are you listening for? What role do you play in filtering what was said vs. what was heard —the meaning you made of what was said?
2. What is important to you? What need(s) are you longing for that this person reminded you was so valuable to you?
Now, more fully connected to yourself and your needs, please consider this: What do you want to do about it?
What might you say or do in that moment that will foster more of that experience for you (and possibly for the other person). In that exact moment. See what happens when you empower yourself to get your needs met ~ even (or especially) when you are upset.