Sunday, June 22, 2008

Conflict Non-resolution

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Wishing For An Alternate Outcome, But How?

This afternoon, I wrote this for the Conflict Resolution course I'm taking this semester; it happened earlier today:

Recently, my partner and I were returning to the women’s locker-room from swimming laps at our YMHA pool. The YMHA, which is the Jewish version of the YMCA, has strict rules designed to protect women’s modesty – for those who want the protection – including designated hours for women-only swims and a posted rule, stating that boys over the age of five are not allowed in the women’s locker-room.

Heading to the showers, we opened the door and as a small family of a mother, daughter and son were heading out of it. Dripping in our bathing-suits, I stopped nonetheless and said, looking at the boy, “This is not OK. I don’t want my tsniut (the religious, Hebrew term for modesty, which I knew she would understand) compromised by him.” He looked ashamed and afraid of my anger, and in parallel, way too old/tall, to be present in the women’s locker-room.

The woman herself was wearing a head-cover that concealed all of her hair and a floor-length skirt and long-sleeved blouse – all indicators of her Orthodoxy. She looked completely caught off-guard and asked, “What?”

“My tsniut. It’s OK for yours to be respected, but not mine?”

“It’s family-swim now.”

“Yeah, but it’s not family-shower,” said my partner, and then, “How old is he?”

“Yeah, I’m going to be naked in a minute,” I said, “and I don’t want him in the locker-room when I am.”

She didn’t answer Pat’s question and instead looked at me and asked, “What am I supposed to do?”

“Ask the lifeguard,” I said angrily and let them pass.


Anonymous said...

Well at least you are good at the angry part. When does the resolution part happen?

So this boy was what? 7? Whoaaaaa... your religion so likes technicalities I guess. Maybe there is no man in her life and she was afraid to let her son wander around since he is so young.

Um... do you have any compassion at all?

Sarah Siegel said...

I thought about how she was just trying to have a nice time with her kids, taking them swimming. The anger part originated from her disrespecting my modesty, though visibly ensuring that her own was intact.

Later, I even considered that I had questionable, moral high-ground, standing there in a limb-revealing bathing suit, i.e., perhaps had forfeited my claim to modesty...however, my religion aside, I'm not OK with boys over five, being in dressing rooms while I'm naked.

I do know that there was likely a more gracious way to communicate my displeasure, so obviously, the course is a good idea for me to take....

Anonymous said...

I too am trying to get a picture of how old this boy was -- a young child, a teenager, what? I'm guessing that he was fairly young, or he would have gone into the men's locker room by himself, presumably. Thus I'm wondering if there existed some solution that would have met both needs: yours to feel assured that he would not see you while you were undressing, and hers to have her young son with her in a public place.

Sarah Siegel said...

Part of what I'm learning in Conflict Resolution, the course, is that everyone brings "intangibles" to a negotiation -- the things that are difficult for us to know, and that matter to the other negotiator. I don't know what the Orthodox woman's intangibles were.

One of mine was an historical bias of mine that Orthodox Jews can sometimes disrespect Jews who aren't likewise Orthodox, i.e., can treat us as though we're not also Jewish, just because we are not strictly observant. I projected that bias onto the woman, since she came into the women's locker-room with a boy that was some years beyond the stated limit. My logic was that if she respected all women's modesty the way she respected her own, she would not have brought him in.

Also, she was not the first Orthodox woman to do this. I was just waiting for it to happen again, since last time, it felt like a violation, and I promised myself that I would not be quiet if it happened again.

The solution probably would have been for one of the male lifeguards to take the boy into the men's locker-room and wait with him while he changed.

Marni said...

As someone who's had a lot of mediation training etc etc, but still gets kind of bound up when i have to be assertive in certain kinds of situations and either do too much or too little, i can empathize with the dilemma you found yourself in.

I think what you said in your reply to an earlier comment really pointed to something important, which i appreciate being reminded of for my myself. How we carry feelings from past insults into current situations, which makes it all too easy to under-react (afraid of a repeat of a painful/frightening/damaging reaction to a previous attempt at assertiveness)or to over-react (going off on someone with rage earned by someone else we weren't able to express it with or take care of ourselves in that situation)...

In some ways it's one of the roots of prejudice. "A (so-and-so) behaved this way and so now when i see one of them, i'm afraid/expecting it to happen again"

Certainly i find that coming up in trying to date after relationships in which i wasn't treated well enough and didn't act strongly enough to take care of myself. It can be hard to really look freshly at each new person - and hard to balance the lessons learned ('ok, don't ever put up with _that_ again') with a realistic and necessary tolerance of people's humanity and reality.

I'm sort of imagining myself in your locker room situation (which happens in municipal facilities too - it's not just frummies!) - not that i'm recommending my likely response!!!! - but reading this made me curious about what i might have done. I think i'd have waited to get naked until the boy was out, or maybe gone to change in a stall with a door if there was one. If i was steamed enough about it or in a 'speak up' mood, i could imagine telling the mom "i just need to tell you that i'm not comfortable changing in front of a boy that age, so i'm going to wait till you guys are done." Letting her know how her behavior impacted me, while only making 'I' statements. I can imagine some people would find it passive-aggressive, and i think depending on how i felt when i did it, it might or might not be.

But then i have my whole 'don't bother anyone and don't need anything' trip...

Sarah Siegel said...

As usual, I love your thinking. Thanks for engaging with me on this. I'm fairly ashamed of my fury and how she got the full load of it only because I'd never before calmly asserted myself.

I'm bringing this conflict situation with me to the workshop this weekend, so if I gain further insight there, I'll share it.

My favorite part of your brain is how analogical it is, and so being burned by a series of ultimately boorish guys felt akin with being repeatedly invaded in the women's locker room by inappropriate combos of Orthodox Jewish families. Makes sense, actually. Thanks for letting me know how you related.

Marni said...

I'll be very interested to hear what the workshop is like for you, i hope you will blog about it.

And thanks... :).

You know, actually, it's not as much being burned by boors (awesome alliteration) that felt relevant per se - i.e. not the content - but the process: having had bad experiences as a result of not asserting myself well enough when faced with bad behavior, and then reacting to the next, possibly innocent, similar person(s) with the load of frustration and anger that i carry with me from the past.

It's the experience of being repeatedly invaded without feeling empowered to keep from being invaded. If we're empowered (internally as much as externally, if not more) it's a whole other ball game.

Are you familiar with Marshall Rosenberg and NVC (non-violent communication)? That's pretty interesting stuff. I'm curious about the specifics of your workshop, too.

Sarah Siegel said...

My dear friend and colleague Keiko, who works in IBM's Learning organization in Japan, gave me Marshall Goldsmith's book, which I read and wrote all over three or so years ago. And then I co-facilitated a leadership development program for Chines managers in Beijing a couple of years ago and gave it to my Chinese co-facilitator colleague.

He's great and I need to go back and read more. It was surprising to me, in fact, that he wasn't included in my course syllabus.