The Story Economy Blog

Prove That You Are Human

prove that you are humanLast week was tough, weather-wise. If you live anywhere that’s not the desert or the deep south, you are probably right there with me. Snow upon snow upon snow. And then a little more snow. And lots of subzero temperatures.

All of this added up to no school for kids for the entire week.

In theory, that shouldn’t matter to me, because my lovely husband stays home with the kids.

But their presence here during the day just makes everything difficult. So it matters. A lot.

Anyway, this is supposed to be my year of releasing judgment! But by Thursday, when school still wasn’t back on, I was doing some pretty serious judging of our public school district and our superintendent. Our district only covers a few miles. It’s not rural. The kids can pretty much wait inside their houses until the bus pulls up in front of it. If the rest of the working world has to function in subzero temperatures, why can’t our school?

I was fuming, spinning these thoughts around and around. Plus, there is that whole national conversation about how we are raising wimps and need to stop giving everybody a ribbon and telling them they’re a winner. Or something like that.

It was all jumbled together into frustration. I was sure it was the superintendent’s fault. Each time the phone rang with his message about school being canceled, I cursed him (and not silently). I wasn’t the only one: other frustrated parents were putting things on Facebook about how we should all drop the kids off at his house (something my husband and I had joked about MANY times).

And then. Oh, and then. There’s always an “and then” when you are being a shortsighted, judgmental ass. It was this: our nightly call from the superintendent came Thursday around 8:00. He announced the 2-hour delay for Friday, but sounded chipper about the possibility of school Friday. The sun was going to come out, he said. It was going to warm and he really thought the delay would be enough.

And then the 7:30 a.m. call came on Friday morning. “We can’t get enough buses started, so school is canceled for the day,” he said, with a deep sigh.

But it wasn’t the words I heard this time. It was his utter frustration. He always sounded like a robot before. But this was different. He let his armor crack.

I’m such a jerk, I thought. This poor guy is defeated, and I’ve been cursing him all week, as if he has anything to do with whether or not a bus will start when it’s -12 degrees.

It hit me in that moment: Oh right, he is human, too.

First, the thoughts in my mind changed from, “He is a jerk who doesn’t know what he’s doing and is clearly out to ruin my week,” to, “Wow, it must suck to be put in that spot.”

And then I noticed that the conversations on Facebook changed. Because it turned out that a lot of other parents noticed the defeat and frustration in his voice, and commented on it. There was no more talk of dropping the kids off at his house. Instead, people were posting about how they drove by the outdoor bus depot (which is practically around the corner from my house) and saw the mechanics out, freezing their bums off, wires and cables everywhere, trying to start those buses, long after school had been called (because my diesel mechanic nephew says those buses need to be started everyday, regardless). The community conversation morphed from “What a bunch of idiots” to “Oh, I didn’t realize that was the problem.”

We still wanted our kids to go back to school! But we weren’t an angry mob anymore.

All because one guy finally proved he was human.

Before You Hit Submit . . .

Have you ever commented on a blog or filled out a form, and before you can submit, a spam blocker box pops up and says: “Prove you are human,” and asks you to type in the code it gives you?

I think it might be handy if, every time people went to communicate something (particularly something not that great), a similar box popped up in the space around them—perhaps to the side of their head, like a cartoon speech bubble—that said: “Prove you are human.”

Because it really, really helps to be human when you are communicating a message to a group.

We do it in our personal relationships. Of course. Because that’s person-to-person mode. But humanness and vulnerability are too often compartmentalized away when we are in professional mode. The thing is, professional mode is really no different than person-to-person mode.

No different.

Should we all walk around letting our anger, frustration, nervousness, and sadness bleed all over our emails and web sites and speeches and pre-recorded voice calls? Not necessarily. I, for one, have been accused of letting too much frustration show on my face around colleagues—and that’s something I’ve been actively working on in the last year. The “never let them see you sweat” motto has a definite place. Smiling, nodding, and finding the positive spin are helpful for getting through tough situations.

But sometimes, what tough situations need more than anything is for someone to prove that they are human. One moment of vulnerability can’t fix a situation, but it can create a space for an audience to see it differently.

So, before you hit submit on your next message, consider if you need to first prove that you are human.


  • Antoinette

    Posted by Antoinette on 03/04/15 3:58pm

    We've been lucky here in the South, spared the extreme weather that you referenced. A little empathy can go a long, long way, and we only earn that empathy when others consider that we are capable (or worthy?) of receiving it. Nice post. Thanks!

    • Judi Ketteler

      Posted by Judi Ketteler on 03/05/15 2:47pm

      Thanks, Antoinette!

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