Last month I wrote about listening and comprehension. Telling that story reminded me of something I witnessed on vacation last year that could have turned deadly but seemed to end well.
It was listening and understanding that saved the day.
My adventure pal and I were enjoying breakfast at a Denver diner when I noticed her watching something over my shoulder and then suddenly heard raised voices.
There were two men arguing and a waitress trying to calm the situation.
To be more accurate, one man was refusing to wear a mask and the waitress was handling it when another man decided to step in and take charge. The dispute escalated quickly and the cops were called.
I hate to say it this way but these are relevant details to the story. One man was black. He refused to put on a mask while he waited inside for a carry-out order. I’m convinced that his issue wasn’t just about the mask.
The other man was white. After hearing some of the names he called the other guy, I’m convinced his issue wasn’t the mask either.
At one point, they both started taking off their shirts and yelling about taking it outside. The waitress was doing her best but she was small and these two large men were not listening to her words of reason.
We were finishing up our meal but felt trapped as the scuffle was happening near the door.
I didn’t think that it would get out of control but you never can tell these days. You don’t know what’s on the hearts and minds of the people around you and you certainly don’t know about strangers.
The waitress somehow took charge. She got the white guy to back off. She convinced the other man to sit at a table and began talking to him in a calm tone, explaining the mask rule.
The cops came. One black and one white. Both calm and respectful. The aggressor left. The other man maintained his seat at the table. He had some choice words to say to one of the cops about being a sell out.
They listened. They asked questions. They were respectful while remaining alert. These guys were clearly trained, well trained on how to deescalate a bad situation without using force.
They used those skills and brought the temperature back down to a manageable level.
Paramedics came and so did a clipboard toting woman who looked like a social worker.
I don’t know what this man’s real problem was or why it was manifesting itself in a petty argument over a mask. I hope that he got the help he needed and is doing better now.
I have turned this event over and over in my head. This all came in November, on the heels of a turbulent summer that informed us just how far we have not come in the realm of race relations.
In another city, with another person leading the response, this very bad situation could have turned lethal.
We paid our waitress and snuck out the door when it seemed safe to do so. There were adventures to be had and they didn’t need us rubbernecking when there was a man clearly under duress.
We stopped to snap a couple of pictures outside and then we saw it. Across the street, the most beautiful mural of all that we saw in a city that is known for incredible public art.
This stunning mural depicts George Floyd. This is the man whose violent death, whose desperate call for his mama, sparked protests, conversations, and we can hope – reform.
It was a magnificent moment of clarity on that cool November morning. I am grateful to those officers and to the others who responded to help this guy.
I am grateful to be telling you a story of success and potential rather than one of tragedy.
Listening. Communication. Respect. It made all the difference in how this story ends.