The other day on the front porch of my workplace, the Y, I cut five very large watermelons, that I had purchased at the local farmers’ market, into bigger-than-bite-sized slices that could easily be held in one hand. I and my co-workers handed out watermelon to probably 250+ people just for the joy of it. There was so much sharing and interaction on that portico that morning. I watched as gym strangers greeted each other and chatted. I saw old friends huddle up and make puddles. Businessmen shook hands. I listened to several, many childhood watermelon stories. There was an eleven-month old who ate three slices of watermelon as her mom held her. There was juice drippage down to each of her elbows and on her mom as she slurped and garbled that watermelon down. It was just an ice cold, sweet watermelon community time. It was a wonderful moment just to pause and visit.
I was on the porch cutting, slurping, chatting and visiting for almost three hours. I probably ate six slices of watermelon. I was full and finished when I closed down the table, so lunch didn’t happen until late. When I got to the restaurant for lunch, while I was waiting on our son to join me, I was enjoying the quiet and resting for a moment. Up popped my waitress. She was bright and cheery. I liked her spirit, but I did not have enough energy to match it. She smiled and looked at me and said, “Would you like a root beer?” Her question caught me off guard, and I am sure my face wrinkled because I don’t like root beer. But I managed to smile and say, “No, thank you.” To which she replied, “Would you like a coke?” I thought to myself, “Is this Twenty Questions?” And then I chuckled because I have been a facilitator for a Y-USA program entitled, “Listen First”, and this waitress had just demonstrated exactly what one is not supposed to do when one is trying to have or create relationship – Assume rather than Ask.
So I told her that what I wanted was a sweet tea. To which she responded, “That is what I was going to guess next.” So I gently asked her what was she basing her guesses on and why was she assuming what I wanted? She said it was because people don’t listen when she asks them, “How are you doing?” They just say, “Mellow yellow.” To which she has always wanted to reply, “Well, I’m just Sprite myself.” So now she cuts out the small talk and starts by trying to figure out what they want to drink. During her explanation, she sat down. I discussed with her how that she was trying to curtail her customers’ not listening by not listening. She and I talked for a bit and I ended up saying to her that if she/we would be patient and listen first, we would save time, get less wrong perceptions and serve each other better. She agreed and said that she has always been impatient. By the time my son got there, I knew this young lady’s name and we had shared a hug. As she took his order, she told my son about learning to listen first.
I guess sometimes I just can’t help myself. But she caught me when I was in my mode. That had been the whole purpose of my morning of watermelon – to give a moment to share and listen so that we can serve each other better - to strengthen community. It doesn’t take much to create a moment of listening. You can buy it at the local farmers’ market, or share it at your local YMCA, or give it in your local lunchtime restaurant. I love listening in my small town.
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