Being in a position to empower young women, as well as men is a blessing and honor. I find myself at times reflecting on the sense of responsibility I feel to pour into those who have come after me in a way our ancestors and previous generations have into me.
Recently a young woman confided in me that someone she frequently interacts with, had done something that made her feel uncomfortable. Like many women we have seen recently with the eruption of the #MeToo movement, often we are unsure of how to handle the situation.
After listening, I advised her that to share how she felt with that person (who may not have realized the reaction his action caused) was important. Not only does it inform the person of something he may not be aware of and should take into consideration in the future, but it also allows for her voice to be heard. It was important for me to encourage her to speak up to him about how she felt.
I understood her, because when I was slightly younger than she was, I had an interaction with a co-worker that made me uncomfortable. He touched me inappropriately in an elevator. I backed up in shock, pushing away and as the elevator doors opened I briskly walked/ran out. I never spoke to the man afterwards, as he didn’t work in my department. And other than one female co-worker, I didn’t tell anyone else. I was 17/18 years old, I was a new intern in a corporate environment of people mostly 30 and older, he was married, and his mother worked at the company. I took the stance that I didn’t want to cause any commotion and pushed the fact that the incident happened to the side. Luckily for me, he didn’t try it again or do anything else. I imagine my reaction spoke volumes of his unwanted advance. However, in a time where many women have come forward about dealing with similar incidents or worst, I recognize many may have felt exactly like I did.
So to address this young lady before me, it was important not only that I shared my experience so she knew she wasn’t alone and I could relate. I did not want her to continue on in life feeling she had to accept being left feeling uncomfortable or unempowered to speak her mind and confront issues that she may deal with in the future.
As a result, she did have the opportunity to address the concern and the person. The man was completely taken back not realizing what he meant as an innocent gesture, made her feel uncomfortable and he apologized. As a result of a simple dialogue, being free to express one’s feelings, and a space of listening, humility, and understanding, the two are alright with each other.
In retrospect, I wish I had someone who had encouraged me in dealing with something of this matter in my past. However, I’m grateful that I’ve grown and been placed in positions and opportunities where supporting and encouraging another can make a difference in the lives of a young person.
If I can share anything that can contribute to our society today, it is that communication and having a dialogue where empathy and understanding is sought, as well as creating a space that is safe for people to share their feelings, be humble, vulnerable, as well as authentic and truthful would go a long way to address much of issues we see in the world. Demonstrating this, simple compassion, could be one of the greatest gifts we can give to the next generations.