“You may not believe this, but I wrote the first academic book on Elvis,” John said with pride, pouring a small taste of wine for me to sample.
“What we know about the King is mostly silly trivia. The country loved his music and hated his unconventional antics. Not because he hip thrusted his way past the sexual lines of his time. No, that’s what most people think. It was more a Racial thing. It’s the 50s and Elvis was good friends with B.B. King when segregation was in full swing. James Brown even called him a “Soul Brother” in one of his books. That’s like being knighted by the Queen of England.
Elvis was the first white man to play in black clubs and move like a black man. Put yourself in the shoes of the 1950’s. He broke every rule in the book.”
John had me hooked.
With enthusiasm dripping off every word, I half expected him to bust out in a best-of medley. After 15 minutes and enough twists to win the Spanish Soap Opera Grammy’s, John glanced down at my shopping cart. Looking back to his wine sample table, he remarked, “Well, I don’t want to bore you too much with this history. I can ramble on for days and you have shopping to do.”
A wine vendor at a grocery store wrote the first academic work on Elvis.
This happened last December and I still can’t get it out of my head.
The hidden talents of people never cease to amaze me. It’s like the world is telling us that everyone we meet – no matter who they are – has a little bit of awesome hidden inside of them. A magical gift that we’re on a mission to find, should we choose to accept it.
As pushed my cart past his aisle, John asked if I would like to sample a wine I can’t hope to pronounce. Since one of my personal rules is to never refuse free alcohol without a damn good reason, I happily obliged his request (don’t judge). The conversation that ensued left me in awe.
Everyone has a story.
In the busy and often disconnected world we live in, it would have been easy to put a label on John.
“Oh, he’s just the wine guy.”
Most people do this a dozen times a day without second thought, but for some reason, we opened up. After 30 seconds of small talk, I asked John a goofy question:
I was reading a book yesterday and thought, ‘Wow. Someone spent a year of their life writing this. That’s crazy.’
Is there anything you think you love enough to write a book on?
Then John made my day.
We rarely give people a chance to share their story. We read each other like the bindings of books, making a judgement on the entire plot before opening to the intro. Everyone has a little awesome inside of them, we just have to find it. And to do that, we need to be open to their story.
Today, that’s the hard part.
Biology & busy lives
“She’s behind the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts. Must have loved glazed treats more than trying hard in school,” I thought. Absorbed in the work of the day, all I wanted was a little sugary goodness.
But Miss Dunkin’ Donuts had a different agenda. We got to talking. She’s actually a dedicated single mother and is starting a non-profit to help other women reach the promised land of a stable household. True story. I didn’t even notice the unconscious stereotype that could have robbed us of a good conversation. She even gave me a free donut.
Our brains are wired to keep things simple, using cognitive shortcuts to make sense of the complicated world we live in. They unflinchingly attach group stereotypes to individuals based on their affinity to a group – even if we have no idea who they are – so we can survive the social world.
We all do it.
It’s 10pm and you’re sitting at a streetlight in the poor part of town. A man walks by your car 15 feet away on the sidewalk. Even if our car doors are locked, we lock them again. Our only explicit punishment is a weird look as the doors click.
Statistically, we’re probably more likely to get in a car wreck then be assaulted in a low income neighborhood, yet cognitive shortcuts and our survival instincts trump statistics.
It’s biology, there are no innocent.
And when these stereotypes trickle over from fight or flight situations to our trip to the grocery store, we have more than a weird look to worry about. Our mind’s desire to keep things simple unintentionally robs people of the chance to tell their own story. We know everything about their group, it must be true about them, closing us off to whatever awesome gifts they’re hiding inside.
Cognitive shortcuts, biology, and busy lives be damned, I vote that we fight back. There are too many Johns out there with stories about Elvis to share. We rob others of their humanity when we make generalized judgements or fall victim to the busy trap. I’m not ok with that.
If this resonates with you, do something about it!
No need to get too crazy and spend 5 hours having deep conversations with everyone on your next trip to get milk. Let’s stick to something simple. Write this on a sticky note or body part!
In the next 24 hours, I will find someone I don’t know too well and discover something awesome about them.
Make a pact with yourself to ask a few people about the book they want to write (or another goofy question). It’s a choice, and it’s easy.
The more we break out of our busy attitudes and stereotypes, the more Elvis scholars we meet with free wine. And who doesn’t like free wine?
Everyone has a story. What’s yours?
Written with love,
PS. If writing reminders to be awesome on body parts is your thing, join our tribe! I send out a little bit of written goodness once a week.
*A big thank you to John and Anku for inspiring this essay