Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The title of the new Mark Morris dance performance premiering at Zellerbach Hall,"Sightlines," reminds me of what happened when I was assisting a women's self-defense class this summer. The other assistant and I were sitting at the far end of the room when we "saw" one of the male instructors slap one of the young female students on the butt. If you had handed me a Bible just then and asked me to swear on it under pain of perjury, I would have. That's what my eyes saw. My ears heard the slapping sound.

I was startled. This was a clear boundary violation. I looked at the young woman; she seemed relaxed and focused, not at all upset. I looked at the row of students lined up against the wall. They were all engaged and content. No one seemed perplexed or disturbed. I looked at the lead female instructor at the head of the room. Again, everything was fine.

I decided I must have been seeing things, and filed it away in my brain under the category Weird Shit.

My co-assistant believed the evidence of her eyes and ears. She went and spoke to the lead instructor, who spoke to the male instructor, the slapper. I had worked with the male instructor before. He is a great guy, sweet, unpretentious, a feminist. I would trust him with my sister. I would trust him with my nieces. I would trust him with anyone.

It turns out he had slapped the sole of the girl's shoe as her foot was cocked, ready to do side-thrust kicks, to indicate "Okay, go for it!" Totally appropriate. From the angle that my co-assistant and I had, in the spot where we were sitting, it looked like he was tapping her on the butt. Everyone else could see he was touching her shoe.

Last week, when the Lovely libra Grrlz and I went to Bolinas for one last ocean romp of the summer, I was frolicking in the waves when I saw some teenage boys on shore heading towards the towel where all our stuff was piled, including one of my friend's wallets. Oakland-based paranoia set in and I ran out of the surf, my thighs pumping, to defend our material belongings. And I was sure it was our belongings they were rummaging in. After all, our location was distinctive, right near the empty lifeguard chair.

It wasn't until I got really close, almost on top of them, (and thank God I hadn't yelled out, "Hey! Get away from our stuff!") that I saw that their towel was actually laid down directly in front of ours. They were innocent, innocent, innocent. They were rummaging in their own backpacks. And I was reminded once again that I could not always trust even the evidence of my own eyes. Sightlines.

I'm trying to use these experiences to broaden my understanding of how other people's points of view appear rational to them even while seeming quite crazy to me. I think I'm okay at empathizing with other people's emotions. At least i can respect their emotions even when I am not feeling the exact same thing myself. I can try to imagine what I might feel in their shoes. But I can be intolerant when it comes to other people's opinions. How can they think that?

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