To all of you who got an email with a half formed blog post, I’m really sorry. I got the “preview” and “publish” buttons confused, and the idea itself wasn’t going in a great direction anyway….
Speaking of large blunders that I’ve made, remember all my rhetoric about listening to people and ensuring that they own the process of development? Well, I was at a birthday party tonight, and a certain event from about two months ago came up. Here’s how I remembered it:
It was the snowiest morning of the winter. We had gotten like 40 cm overnight and all the schools were closed. I was on my way back from a morning run when I saw a woman stuck in the parking lot in front of our apartment, wheels spinning in the snow.
Feeling pretty macho after the snowy run, I approached her to see if she needed assistance. She didn’t speak much English, but was pretty obviously distressed about the whole situation. She kept gunning the car, and so I got behind to help push. After a few meters of progress, another passerby joined the battle. By now we had the car around the corner and were facing the exit. As we pushed, another neighbor named M came out, one who knew me and the woman in the car. Despite a language barrier, we managed to work together to get the car through the lot and out on to the road. I felt a rush of adrenaline as we watched then drive down the street, the women waving thankfully back at us.
Just tonight, with the help of a translator, I heard another side of the story. It went something like this:
I wasn’t sure whether I was expected to be at school today or not, so I thought I would try and get to the college. I got into my car and my wheels started spinning, and I thought “I bet the roads are dangerous; I had better stay inside.” However, some people came behind me and started pushing, and I didn’t know how to tell them to stop, so I just drove over to your apartment building to see what my friend M was doing. We decided that we would just stay at her apartment. That’s when you came and started pushing my car. When M came out, we didn’t know how to tell you that we wanted to stay, because you were working so hard to get us to go. We felt obliged to drive somewhere, so we went to the library. It was closed, so we came home.
– Not only did I make an incredibly stupid mistake, I was the second person to do make it! The problem seemed so obvious, and I was so ready to be the hero that I didn’t think twice about pushing a car onto the road, an action which endangered the life of the very person I was trying to help!
– The application is so obvious that I am typing it out only so that it engrains itself slightly deeper into my brain. When I see a problem, the first thing I need to do is stop and listen, to find out what peoples’ goals for the situation are.
I dare not size up a situation from afar, run in, and muscle my way to a solution. It’s not that it won’t work, it’s that I might end up pushing someone out who wants to stay in the parking lot.
– I only heard this story because we happened to meet with someone who was: 1) able to translate and 2) willing to to be honest about a pretty embarrassing story for everyone involved. There aren’t a whole lot of people who would do that, and it takes even more guts to be brutally honest when money and power become a factor.
Tread carefully, the snow is deeper than you think.