Like the rest of the world, I am completely charmed by Gabby Douglas. As I was reading about her in the newspaper yesterday, a seemingly small thing jumped out at me and resonated strongly. In talking about her history of living with a white family while training for the Olympics, she reflected upon her experience in being the only African-American. She noted how she would be surprised that the people she was living near were not familiar with the type of music she was familiar with, and how she was not familiar with their type of music. She summed up the situation: “It was awkward.”
“It was awkward” speaks volumes about how far we have come and how savvy the new generation is in bridging differences. When I read those words, I recalled how I have been hearing that phrase from other young people, and stopped to reflect upon its brilliance.
As a mediator, I am profoundly impressed by the phrase. It is a simple, easy to say, “cool” to hear, convenient to use phrase that means: this is the situation; it will pass; it’s no one’s fault; no one is to blame; let’s not pretend though that it doesn’t exist.
What more than that can we expect in bridging differences? OK — perhaps we can expect some active effort in reducing awkwardness (or perhaps not, depending on the situation). But this phrase goes very far. To see how far, think of the things that people so often say — or if things are changing, what people used to say — when people feel that a situation is awkward. In my mind, the common practice is often to denigrate the behavior, culture or traditions of the other; or to comment on their different-ness in a way that makes it clear that they should endeavor to be the same; or to become defensive and defend one’s own behavior, culture or traditions as a way of creating a sense of superiority.
The phrase also highlights how difficult it can be to pinpoint the issue between people in a way that is neutral and helpful. Saying “it’s awkward” can be a very accurate and neutral statement of the issue between two or more people or groups of people. Finding a way to state the issue neutrally, is as we know, half (or the whole) challenge.
I am going to endeavor to remember this phrase and how useful it can be, and to reflect how much we can learn from young people who have a new, enlightened, and idealistic view of the world.