And a small cupcake will guide them

Today I worked almost a 12 hour shift and by the time we’d closed and I’d walked to the train station and found a bench I was exhausted. I’d JUST missed the train I needed so I knew I’d have awhile to sit. I pulled out my book and settled into the bench to read a little. I don’t actually mind waiting for trains as long as I’m not running late so, while I was tired, I wasn’t particularly annoyed.

Less than a minute after I’d sat down a family of five walks into the station, and two of the children and the mom sat down next to me, while the dad and the oldest boy stayed standing. The dad seemed to be on an ongoing tirade about same sex marriage. For a few minutes I pretended to ignore what he was saying, until finally I was fed up.

I put my book in my lap and said, “Sir, you totally have the right to think and say what you like, but I had a long day at work and I’m tired of hearing how immoral I am. Would you mind finishing your tirade later?” Seeing the somewhat angry look on his face, and knowing I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of a fight or a lecture, I quickly tried to figure out some peace offering.

“Also,” I said, not pausing to wait for his retort, “Would any of you like a cupcake? We had tons left over at work.”

The two younger kids, seated on the bench next to me, looked at their dad. By now he just looked confused, no longer angry, and definitely unsure what to think of me.

“Can we have a cupcake, dad?” asked the younger girl. He shrugged, and they both looked back to me. I gave them a pack of four cupcakes, and they grabbed them and said thank you. The mom asked where I worked, I told her, and we laughed that one of the perks and drawbacks of working at a coffee shop was the amount of free pastry available.

I asked them if they were visiting Boston for the first time, and the dad said that he’d been before but it was the kids’ first time. We talked for over 10 minutes about Boston, and Los Angeles (where I am from) and Tennessee (where they are from) and what kinds of things to see in Boston. I looked up an address on my phone for them. We laughed that we could see into one of the hotel rooms across the street and it looked like they were jumping on the bed.

I asked what they were up to the next day, and they said that they hoped to see the Aquarium and maybe do a Duckboat tour. Needing to just sneak one little jab in there I invited them to join me at church the next morning; their faces were predictably confused.

And a couple minutes later their train came. They all said goodbye to me, the kids thanked me again for the cupcakes, and that was that. We all, at least, left the interaction smiling.

So did I change any minds forever? Who knows; probably not drastically.

Did they get to hear a different position on the same sex marriage debate? Nope.

Did I bring up politics or the real injustices that gay people face or quote any bible back at them about equality, love, and compassion? Not even a little.

Because did I mention I’d worked an almost 12 hour shift? That I’d been out of the house for fifteen hours? That above all I was tired and just wanted to not listen to somebody bashing me and my family? That really was my initial motivation.

I’m so tired of fighting and fighting and fighting; of having the same argument with the same people and the same counterarguments flying my way. And I also do firmly and wholeheartedly believe that he did have the right to be saying what he was saying. I just didn’t want to listen, and I also didn’t really want to move.

So I offered what I had – cupcakes and advice about the city of Boston.

And, lo, it worked. They, of course, played a part too. They didn’t lecture me, or ignore my request, or target me. They accepted cupcakes from a stranger who they recognized they had been saying bad things about mere seconds before. They were interested enough, or at least feigned interest, in what I had to say, and I listened as they told me about their home back in Tennessee. We all chose to interact on that human level. That whole I-Thou thing we talk so much about.

So what’s the takeaway here? Always carry cupcakes seems impractical.

But maybe, “always be willing to approach an issue in a new way.” may be worth looking at.

Or, perhaps, “people don’t like being yelled at.”

Or maybe, just maybe, something about the inherent worth and dignity of all people? Or exercising justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?

Right, those pesky first and second principles.

I’ve been trying this thing recently, just in the past couple of months. When something upsets me I figure out what my first reaction is, and I don’t do that. I wait a minute and think, “ok, how else can I deal with this situation?” It’s led to some really neat conversations and interactions, and this is a really fun and concrete example of one.

I, like most anybody I can think of, am just tired of politics and rhetoric. I don’t want to have the same argument about the over 1400 rights that married couples have in the US. I don’t want to talk about how trans people can be fired just for their identity. I don’t want to bring up LGBTQ youth suicide rates, instances of bullying, or any of the other stuff that are the go to talking points for “dealing with” the anti-LGBTQ crowd. I want to have these conversations in new and different ways; or maybe, instead of having “those: conversations, I want to talk to people about their families and I want to let them know who I am; that I am more than a ballot question that they vote against.

So no, I probably didn’t change their minds. And I will be shocked beyond belief if they show up to church tomorrow. I have no doubt that they will go back to their Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Tennessee (I’m not making assumptions; they told me) and nod along with the minister if anything anti-gay is said from the pulpit.

But we didn’t fight. We DIDN’T FIGHT. That’s a step, right? Please, let it be a step.

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38 Responses to “And a small cupcake will guide them”

  1. It’s a step, perhaps a small step in the overall picture, but a step in the right direction none the less. I’m sorry you had to go through that after such a long day at work. Good thing you had some cupcakes with you. 🙂

  2. Growing up, I heard a lot of UUs talk about how “a good healthy debate” will help resolve issues that people disagree about. Thanks so much for reminding us how that is not always – or even usually – true. Sometimes the hardest issues are not brought closer to resolution by debate, but by gradually de-othering the other.

  3. Confrontation is exhausting.

    Ineffective confrontation is enervating.

    It is certainly some kind of step. You both avoided the negative and left people feeling better than they a) did without the cupcakes and b) might well have had you even just left it at “please stop, because I am tired.”

    I hope I am half that wise and flexible when I am next given those sorts of options.

  4. Cupcakes! YES! I love this, Andrew. Thank you.

  5. In my experience with interpersonal conflict, it seems like a very important first step is to let someone vent and just get it out of their system—to allow them to be heard, so their own experience can be validated. But there comes a point where, left unchecked, the same emotional message starts repeating like a broken record. This would be the time when a fresh approach has a real chance of redirecting the conflict towards resolution.

    I bring this up not because I think you don’t know it, and not even because it really pertains to this particular interaction with this family from Tennessee (because it doesn’t). But it came to mind when I read your sentence, “I, like most anybody I can think of, am just tired of politics and rhetoric.”

    It made me wonder if we’ve reached a turning point in the public discourse about LGTBQ issues. It made me wonder if maybe—just maybe—we, as a collective whole, have all vented enough to get our experience heard so we can feel validated. Maybe the “anti” people are just as sick and tired of all these arguments as the “pro” people are. Maybe all the rhetoric is starting to sound a little worn out…like the track on an old record that’s starting to skip from repeating too often.

    It made me wonder—maybe even hope—that there’s a chance that this nationwide conflict is ready to try a new approach and be redirected towards resolution.

    Maybe.

  6. Absolutely loved this story! Maybe just reminding this family that we are all humans and not just labels will lead to positive change.

    Also, i might start carrying around cupcakes.

  7. Brilliant, Andy. You built a bridge of connection by being yourself. You’re almost certainly the first out queer with whom they’ve had a conversation. And I’m not so sure they’ll nod along with homophobia in the future–not all of them. Can we get this blog up on the Standing on the Side of Love site?

  8. Loved this. Thank you.

  9. nice! I would love to have seen this and possibly have a cupcake as well 🙂 Any left?

  10. A couple of years ago, I was waiting to cross the street when a kid yelled “dyke!” at me from a passing car. I was stunned speechless, first because I hadn’t been read as female for a while, and then because the offending kid was rather young, and right in front of his (apparently approving) parents. When I came back to my senses, I saw the kid still staring at me through the back window, and my reaction was to wave.

    I’m sure I didn’t make even a fraction of the impact that you did, but it felt good not to enter a circle of aggression (by showing him the finger, for instance, or yelling back). And I felt a bit more human when, to my surprise, the kid waved back at me.

  11. I thank Jan Elliot for connecting me to your blog through this posting; I did not know of you until now. It moved me to resurrect this wisdom from readings I’d lost focus on in recent years:
    “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mohandas Gandhi

    Therefore, if we surrender our faith in humanity, it muddies our perception of the ocean; and it’s true nature is obscured to us and those we touch.

  12. Wow. I had wondered what to do in situations like that. I am straight but no less offended by those kinds of diatribes. I admire, first your courage (even if born of fatigue) and then maintaining your humanity. Beautiful and inspiring story. I understand well the weariness with ‘fighting and fighting and fighting’.

  13. What you really taught the children is that LGBTQ people talk about who they are and where they’re from just like anyone else. That is what they will remember the next time someone starts a tirade about gays and lesbians. That and there might be a cupcake involved, which would improve human relations on any level.

  14. Thank you, thank you for these words. I needed so badly to hear (ok, see) them today. The universe seems to be sending a lot of messages lately. I am glad someone was listening.

  15. What a beautiful story. I love that you brought it down to a human level. You didn’t match his tirade with your own, instead you offered love and a human connection. If we all offered love and connection instead of lectures we’d go a long way to bridging the gap from “us and them” to “we the people”. Your story is truly inspiring.

  16. It is a step, and the debate continues at the same time. You helped them move the debate where it belongs, not between them and you, but within their own minds, between their belief and their experience. A beautiful story!

  17. I would carry cupcakes with me wherever I go, except that I would eat them all myself.

    This is an inspiring story. I, too, get exhausted by the arguing, exhausted even thinking about the arguing. A thought that has occurred to me often is that we have become so polarized over so many issues, that we don’t have opportunities to talk with people who think/believe differently than we do. Just talk, not argue. Have a human conversation. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a Republican, for example. We need to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities to have small, human interactions with people unlike ourselves – to discover that they are more like us than not. They like cupcakes, too.

  18. You are my new hero! I think you did make an impact. I believe it is the sympathetic homosexual characters on sit-coms and in movies that are aiding the shift towards more acceptance. Meeting someone in person that you think should be all kinds of wrong only to learn that they are kind, interesting, helpful, and a regular person is probably a revelation. My FIL used to say horribly racist things unless it was about someone he knew. That was always the exception. Familiarity breeds acceptance, or at least a modicum of civility.

  19. That’s a HUGE step, and a beautiful one, and one (unlike arguing) that would literally save the world all by itself if enough of us took it. Trying to take power over others, ideologically or otherwise, is unsustainable; demonstrating your own empowerment constructively and making it easy for others to come to you, on the other hand, is sustainable, useful, and the strongest thing you can do. God bless you, and may we all take strength from your model.

  20. This was huge. Those children will never forget you, never forget your good example and the parents won’t either, and they will take the story of that day home and into their community. Well done!

  21. Awesome! Thank you for being who you are, doing what you did, and then sharing the story with us. I’ve got to mention that I’m an almost-stranger to UU, having learned of it fairly recently through my girlfriend, and only having browsed the website. However, the quality of compassion and consciousness that it seems to represent and promote is extraordinary – as evidenced by my love Melissa, by yourself, and also the many comments on your post (I assume some of whom share UU as an influence). So, for many reasons, thanks again for sharing that.

  22. Thanks for sharing your story. Sometimes it’s easy to get cynical. Hearing stuff like this really helps all of us stay hopeful for change.

  23. Yes, we can only change how we react! You see it worked, you were fabulous, you made a choice. Hooray! I applaud you.

  24. I am hosting 2 university students from abroad. They are ostracized from the rest of the group for their progressive politics. (Among other issues, they are dating: none of their peers are allowed to date before marriage.) Yesterday they asked me how to go about tolerating people who have never been exposed to new ideas. Now I know what to say: “cupcakes!” Thanks!

  25. Beautiful, well written piece of prose! And, yes, once you put a human face on anything, people tend to be more accepting. I am so tired of the nasty, vitriolic rhetoric that is a part of our nation right now. Please let it just be a phase.

  26. Lovely- the power of cupcakes and the power of our principles. Often under-rated in both camps.

  27. There’s a fair bit of precedent in the Gospel/s for disarming people with unexpected moves …

  28. simple conversation is such a blessing. Thank you.

  29. If a whole bunch of people take that step it is a movement.

  30. It’s a beautiful step. One of Canada’s favourite politicians died yesterday. He spent years working for the homeless, those with Aids, for equal rights, aboriginal rights, the environment. He left a letter, written the day before he died and this plea was at the end of his letter.

    “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.
    So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.
    And we’ll change the world.”
    ~ Jack Layton, Canadian NDP leader, 1950-2011

    You absolutely made the right choice!
    Be well.

  31. Thank god for cupcakes! And thank you for choosing civility over confrontation. Well done and well said.

  32. How utterly frightening and seemingly damning to experience a negative knee-jerk reaction towards persons and events and that it be one of hostility or indifference….how utterly satisfying and freeing when one realizes that if we hold the mirror up and look within and experience an “aha” moment, we see that it was always about us anyways and that we can choose to change, if we wish. 🙂

  33. Just one word – brilliant. What a beautiful display of civil behaviour and what a wonderful way to diffuse by changing the tone of the encounter and not entering the fight. I will hold your model in my heart and do my best to practice this way when I meet those who do not agree with me.

  34. What a great post. I love your thoughts and philosophies. I imagine that your conversation, held in the name of Not Fighting, went a long way in opening the minds of that family. I also imagine it went a lot further than a hostile conversation would have. The cupcakes were just icing on the cake! 😉

  35. One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. 🙂 I had already made a resolution to practice forbearance this year; now you’ve shown an inspired way to do that. Thank you.

  36. Tonight was the night I finally read this entry of your blog my mom (Judy Rothrock) sent me in August. She often sent me things that she thought I would find worth while and for some reason I didn’t read this when she sent it to me. I left it in my inbox and kept meaning to go back to it…then it happened, she died and I couldn’t read it. I was afraid it would make me cry which is silly because I think I have cried more in the past few months then all of my prior 39 years. So tonight I once again began cleaning out my inbox and finally filing away all the e-mails sent to me about my mom and the congratulation e-mails about the birth of the grandson she will never meet…when I came across the “shared post” with the odd title.

    It was beautiful and I felt my mom was watching over my shoulder as I read. Thank you for sharing your stories with my mom so she could share them with me. I miss her a great deal but I’m so glad she left me a bit of herself in the wonderful community she was a part of.

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