I had made what to me was a significant financial investment in a coaching program, & I had worked for 5 days, off and on, to complete the intake process. The problem was basically their form–to say it was screenreader-hostile is the polite and very edited version. I flipped between Word and PDF versions, trying to determine which items were headings vs. those that should be checked, and trying to find things that the folks said were present but the screenreader stubbornly refused to see. When I was told on day 5 that I still hadn’t got it right, after working 3-4 hours on the thing, & having a headache that would’ve been blinding were I not already there, I raised the white flag and told them to forget it. At least that’s what I told them in my letter. Privately, I used another word, also beginning with f.
The phone rang about 1 in the afternoon the next day. It was Leslie. She wanted to discuss my decision. Her first response was, “I think I know what the problem is–this form can get a little intense.”
“Intense?” I queried. I think she sensed she got it wrong. Instead of plowing ahead with any preconceptions she might have harbored, she simply stopped dead in her tracks and said “talk to me.”
I said she might not wanna hear it. She indicated otherwise. My first thought was, “o, brother–here’s some utterly clueless sighted person trying to suck me down a sales funnel. Been there, done that, don’t want no more.” However, my teaching instincts kicked in. If nothing else, here was an opportunity to let someone know how severely lack of accessibility could impact a life–not that she could have done anything about it. So I told her how my screenreader wasn’t reading the form properly and detailed some of the polemics I’d gone through to try to complete the program requirements, and how finally, I’d simply hit a brick wall and couldn’t proceed further.
Her response shocked me. Basically, it was “thank you for welcoming me into your world.” I thought to myself, “in my best moments, that would’ve been something I’d say”, and it felt strange to be on the receiving end. I no longer felt like a prospect being flushed down a sales funnel. I felt, in that moment, that two human beings had touched souls. I’d often wondered whether Stephen Covey’s books, when he’d talked about this concept of profound empathy, which was what Leslie was exhibiting, was merely idealistic “pie in the sky”. I know of a certainty now it wasn’t. A Jewish lady, living in a cabin in Texas, whose humble soul rejoices in the sabbath and yearns for the coming of Messiah, put aside sales considerations in favor of relationship. Hostility died, replaced by mutual respect, trust, (and dare I say it?) love. Consensus was reached. And all that between a Jewish lawyer and a pastor’s wife and former doctor, who conventional wisdom says should get along about as well as cats and dogs. It’s about as close to a modern-day miracle as it gets.
There are times when the word “thank you” doesn’t even come close. This was one of them. There’s something about feeling completely understood that, as Covey says, gives someone “psychological air”. When you feel like you’re drowning, and now you can breathe again, “Thank you” can’t begin to express the gratitude of receiving such a gift. The sad thing is, this lady doesn’t even understand the incredible gift she has–she oughta be doing world tours, on-stage, teaching others the profound depths of what she knows. The other sad thing is her employer doesn’t understand the value of what she possesses, either. It’s not about sales. It transcends customer service. Rather, it’s about understanding a fellow human being to such a degree that both have more freedom and peace and joy and trust because of the interaction. This troubled world cries out for more humble souls, searching for something beyond themselves, reaching out vertically to their god, and horizontally to their fellow-travelers on this very small globe; people who’ll put their own agendas aside and listen; folks who place a greater premium on understanding than on being understood or getting their way. From factory workers to management, from garbage collectors to the highest echelons of government, and all walks of life in between, the truth is that in every station of existence, this world desperately needs more Leslies.