Now That I Have Your Attention….

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Well, I have a lot more to say! I guess my extended blog absence is over. Maybe. I’m a bit rusty, to say the least. Before I launch into my posts about my life and loves and ups and downs, I need to say a few more things about religion, apologies and forgiveness.

Some friends have mentioned to me that they are surprised that I — as a lesbian — shop at B&H. To which I say, have you ever been there and interacted with their salespeople?! They are amazing! They will spend hours with me, without rushing me, to make sure I get exactly what I need. I swear they are all professional photographers moonlighting in sales for deep discounts. They are honest to a fault: They have many times talked me out of a more expensive product for one that serves my specific needs better. And they teach me things, like exposure compensation and what that setting is on my camera, so I always walk out of there knowing more than I did when I came in. They are living, breathing camera manuals and they have, for certain, made me a better photographer. Take that, Best Buy!

There is little doubt that the amazing customer experience at B&H has won over scores of customers. However, people are questioning my patronage because of the store’s owner’s religious affiliation. This store is founded and run by people who observe Hasidism, a conservative branch or Orthodox Judaism. The store also employees many people who are religiously observant. I am aware that the Orthodox Jewish doctrine does not condone homosexuality, but most organized religions are not known for being particularly gay friendly. Certain churches or synagogues or temples may set aside anti-gay tenets and have a more open community, but those places of worship are few and far between.

I neither have, nor will I ever, pick where I shop based on the owners’/employees’ religious identification. I don’t care who you worship or what religious doctrines you follow, as long as you are respectful to me. Because the reality is, while Catholicism doesn’t respect homosexuality, many Catholics do (including some of my closest friends). Mormons have an anti-gay history, but not all Mormons are anti-gay (and I know a collection of gay Mormons!) And so while I realize that the Orthodox religion doesn’t condone homosexuality, I am not going to paint all Orthodox people with that paintbrush.

Political views? Well, that is a whole different animal. If a corporation of any kind uses its stage to express viewpoints that oppose mine, then consider me a former customer.

Chick-Fil-a’s COO is on record opposing gay marriage. He says his company supports the “biblical” definition of family. (Oops. That’s not my family.) And they put their money where their mouth is: They fund — to the tune of millions of dollars — anti-gay groups that work hard to end gay-friendly legislation. It is a pretty easy decision for me not to eat at Chick-Fil-a—which is a shame because I do really like their sandwiches.

Unless a country, a store, a restaurant, a corporation or entity of any kind states in any way that they are anti-gay, I am fine. There are times when I MUST do research: We are taking the girls on a vacation outside of the country, and you better believe I did ensure that the country gay friendly. But can you imagine how exhausting that is to do that on a daily basis? Do I have to interrogate every single teacher of my children? Must I interview the owner of, say, the local dry cleaner to determine is they belong to any political group or religion that is anti-gay? And then to demand to interview every employee to see where they stand on the issues that are important to me and my family? It simply doesn’t work that way for me. Maybe that makes me a failed activist. But I trust that my children’s teachers —regardless of political and religious affiliation, and personal views — will be respectful to my children. And if they are not, watch out. And if that dry cleaner put up a sign denouncing the Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage ruling, well, I would take my business elsewhere in a New York or Northampton minute.

Forgiveness, well that comes easy to me, most of the time. It’s selfish act, in a way, because by forgiving I am releasing the anger or resentment or bitterness that I carry for whatever offense or perceived offense. I simply cannot hold onto things like that. It’s exhausting for me, and puts me in a bad mood. Forgiving myself, well, that’s another blog post; I need to work on that.  But forgiving others is old hat. So I forgive, because it’s worth it in the end to now end up one of those bitter people. Have you seen those people? The ones that hold onto wrongs for decades and steep in bitterness? That will never be me. It’s just not who I am.

Pictured above: Why is this so important to me? Because my children are listening. And watching.

Diamond-Cut Apologies

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You know that quote that goes around after horrific events, like the Boston marathon bombings? It’s something Mister Rodgers said about in the midst of bad, look for the helpers? Well, yesterday I realized I had a lot of helpers around me.

First, let me be clear that I am not equating a homophobic verbal exchange at a cash register with terrorist events. I obviously realize the difference. But yesterday, and the day before, the outpouring of comments, emails and support stunned me. I am grateful for every single one.

I have become immune to the power of apology. As the mother of six-year-old twins, I have to negotiate apology events constantly. I can’t count the number of times I say “Apologize to your sister!” in a single day. And what happens next: A terse “sorry” spit out by a child with a scowl on her face, about as genuine as cubic zirconia. Looks flashy, but no substance. Man, I work hard to make them look at each other in their eyes, and say it like they mean it, use a personal pronoun, and understand that “sorry” is not just a word, it’s an action.

But I digress. All this Mister Rodgers and sorry talk to say that yesterday, while I was supervising cousins playing in a pool on Long Island, and enjoying some screen-free time in the beautiful sunshine with my family (minus Nicole, who is still in Haiti), B&H contacted me via comments on my blog, via Twitter and even via some of my friends to apologize. Their diligence is noted. And we didn’t get a cookie-cutter, forced apology: It was a genuine apology that seemed truly heartfelt. Read for yourself below.  (This was what was sent via email. You can read in the blog comments what was said there.)

B&H didn’t have to do anything. I’m a loyal customer, for sure, but I don’t come with million-dollar contracts. I shop there for all of my camera needs, but, until I (maybe) upgrade to a full-frame camera, right now my needs are mainly lenses (well, those ARE pricey). I have friends, and Twitter and social media outlets, but we all know I don’t come with 50K twitter followers. In other words, I really could have been brushed under the carpet, cast off as a disgruntled customer, business as usual.   

Instead, they apologized, sincerely, and I was grateful. That is what I wanted, all I wanted. And this is why that is important: When the girls get older, and we have to have Hard Conversations about the horrific and specific prejudices they will encounter in their lives due to the fact that they have two moms — as it will be a matter of “when” and not “if”— I will be able to say: This happened. It’s not right. I wrote a letter. They apologized. And that is how you handle a bad situation.

It doesn’t, of course, change what happened. And I don’t now paint everyone who works at that store as homophobic; after all, one person doesn’t represent an entire staff. There is no B&H corporate policy of hatred or homophobia. But it did happen. And there is a part of me that is grateful that it did, for several reasons. It reminds me that we need to have conversations with the girls about how the world sometimes works. I can’t just put my head in the sand and hope for the best. It reminds me that there is a lot of work that still needs to happen for acceptance — I can’t imagine people having to blatant homophobia at a doctor’s office, or work, or a restaurant. We simply can’t forget that this still happens — a lot. And it reminds me that there is a ton of support out there, that I have a small army behind me, filled with people who are outraged when I am outraged; people who see (hear) the wrong in words when many won’t; people who have my children’s backs. That means the world to me, you have no idea. The world is shifting, indeed, and the good will someday outweigh the bad. A girl can dream. 

So now, it’s a new day, and while I DID say that all I wanted was an apology, I think I may have a new request. I read once that there are three parts to an apology:

  1. I’m sorry.
  2. I was wrong.
  3. What can I do to make it right?

Most people do the first step; some people do the first and second; but most forget the third, myself included. What can I do to make it right? I will admit that I had one of those moments of enlightenment when I first read that quote. Oh so THAT’S how an apology works! It’s not just a collection of words that we say out loud. We have to offer to make it right, even if the affronted person crosses their arms, scowls and says “nothing,” like a six-year-old. I need to remember to start teaching the girls that.

I said from the beginning that all I wanted was an apology. B&H did that. And they admitted that they (well, the employee, that is) were/was wrong, thus satisfying number two. But what can they do to make it right? Friends suggested that perhaps a donation to HRC would be appropriate, and I think that is a great idea. Why? Because some day, when the girls are older and we talk about these situations with more depth, I can add that to the story: They apologized and look what action they took! I am all about hindsight. 

I know B&H is quite involved in charitable donations (I recall reading that the owners of B&H are very charitable, and modest — despite the runaway success of their company. There were some interesting stories that I vaguely recall) so I am sure a donation of any amount would not cut too much into their budget. I was sent an email address and phone number, and I think I may contact them directly today to see if that is possible.  

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about that quote about how you can’t boil an ocean, but you can do wonders with a few drops of water. I feel like, over the past couple of days, we boiled a few drops of water. I am filled with this renewed passion and belief that even I  can make a difference! It may be little, but awareness breeds awareness.  And I am optimistic enough to think that a collection of many events like this can actually, maybe, kinda, sort of start boiling an ocean. 

Pictured above: Our girls, waiting on the world to change. And below, behold — This is how an apology is done:

Ms. Clarson:

I apologize. B&H apologizes. Colleagues of mine at the highest level of management here know about this terrible situation and apologize. There is no excuse — it is inexcusable. No person should ever have been subjected to what you experienced and for it to have happened in front of your children makes it all the worse.

It is not an excuse for me to say this was aberrant behavior on the part of one individual here. It does not represent the company’s attitude and it certainly does not represent mine. We know who here conducted this conversation with you. His manager and our human resources department have already begun the internal process of addressing this with him.

I doubt anything I can say or write or do can erase this incident from your memory. I understand your feelings extend to the entire company and everyone here. It is not my purpose in this message to convince you to change your mind about not shopping here in the future. In your position I would feel the same way. Nothing is more sacred than family and nothing in this world is more important to me than my own child. My only purposes are to tell you how abjectly we regret this ever happened and to tell you that this was an individual’s inexcusable behavior, not a reflection on our staff.

I would not presume to intrude on you by phoning you at this time but if you want to discuss this further you can reply to this email address or reach me at xxx-xxx-xxx.

 regards,

 [Redacted! I have always wanted to use that word!]

 Director of Corporate Communications

 B&H Photo-Video, and Pro-Audio