Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cultural diversity

Working in a large public library I encounter diversity.

At my library we have tall people, stupid people, theatrical people, Korean people, sad people, black people, transgender people, Jewish people, people who don't know how to dress themselves, French people, drunk people, poor people, narcoleptic people, ex-convicts, aspiring convicts, athletes, Afghanistanis, hungry people, doctors, Buddhist people, homeless people, Hmong people, Native Americans, people who smell like pee, people descended from Swedes, fictional people, poets, Irish people, blind people, Somali people, and Egyptians.

And that's just among the staff!

Just kidding. No one I work with is all that tall.

Endeavoring to communicate across this vast array of conditions and classes can be challenging. We are all human, but our frames of reference, cultural habits, languages, and physical and mental abilities can sometimes be so different that they present exhausting challenges, and sometimes issuing a library card, or finding a book for someone, or explaining late charges can become a long and difficult struggle. Just recently I have noticed that, being a person of, hopefully, pretty strong cultural sensitivity, I sometimes am too sensitive to differences. This might not be a real problem. It might be a matter of erring on the side of caution. But I noticed it lately, and wanted to share it with you in case you found it to be of use.

The key is in my very partial diversity list. The list of ways to define people can go on almost endlessly. And any one person can encompass vast numbers of those separate definitions all at once, or even at different times.  Sometimes I will be dealing with a patron and struggling to communicate through what seems to be a language barrier, for instance. Perhaps the patron speaks some English, but no matter what I say I can't seem to get through to them about the reason that they can't renew their book. They seem angry. So I explain in different ways. I draw sketches. I ask them to explain to me. I persist. I change speeds. They seem to agree, but then at the conclusion resume arguing. I think maybe it is not language, maybe it is cultural. Maybe I should be standing further back or closer to. Maybe I should say "Sir" a lot. I don't get anywhere. They make unreasonable demands. Maybe it is because they are too poor, or it is an issue of pride. I talk in different ways. I spend a great deal of time running down a long list of line items on my great diversity checklist looking for a key. And then, suddenly, it comes to me all at once. 

It cuts across every ethnicity, every religion, every race, and every class. It is unbound and free.

They're an asshole.

So I give them my manager's card.

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