It was my first time at Facebook headquarters. And as I pulled into the parking lot last month, I had another first: right by the front doors of building 2 were the usual spots reserved for disabled folks… behind a few spots designated for expectant mothers.
I’d never seen that before. And while I myself have never been pregnant, it made sense.
How cool, I thought!
But, it would seem that not everyone agrees…
“I park in expectant mother’s parking because it’s closer to the door” has its own page on Facebook, explaining, “It’s closer. So why don’t they have expectant father’s parking? That’s kinda a big deal too. The expectant father is probably at the store to buy something the expectant mother is craving. Anyway, they’re like the handicapped spots only you can’t get tickets for parking there.”
Does this seems like a confused argument/mad grab for justification to you? Convenience seems to be primary motivator, with a half-hearted call for equity for dads thrown in there before the poster admits another reason to park in expectant mother spots: because you can get away with it. Which is true, at least in Indiana: http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/police-enforce-expectant-mother-parking-stores-17285/. As for the poster’s call for equal rights: expectant fathers don’t carry the babies.
Another FB user who is willing to share her name posted, “You’re not disabled, so don’t park in a disabled space you lazy BASTARD!” and went on to ask her friends, “Who gets mad at the places where they have the parking for ‘expectant moms’ that are closer than the handicap parking? I do. I have been pregnant and I didn’t need that much help as when I was considered handicapped.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Julie’s friends tend to share her perspective, posting responses like: “I am fed up of [sic] people parking in the bloody disabled spots when there [sic] not bloody disabled!!! And why should there [sic] be mother a [sic] baby ones??? If they didn’t wanna carry a baby why get pregnant? And a child would be held or in a buggy anyway.” Wow.
While I share an ire for people who park illegally in spots for disabled folks, I must confess that the contempt for expectant mother parking surprises me. I get that some moms have no need for parking perks, but does their fortunate good health justify intolerance for moms who might need or just appreciate a break?
And what makes it OK to attack a woman’s reproductive rights because you don’t agree with the city or state’s decision to provide parking accommodations for her?
What troubles me about the controversy (albeit a diffuse and questionably committed one) around expectant mom parking is the faster-than-the-speed-of-light judgments and the certainty that my experience gives me the authority to speak to yours. These are all too typical in conversations about how we’re different, and how those differences matter.
Toward creating more space to wonder and learn, to honor each other and to be more compassionate (as opposed to critical), I’d like to suggest two practices:
- Speaking from the “I” and listening from the “we.” As a middle and high school teacher, I discovered that my students came to me already trained in the discipline of the “I.” They would speak with this tall, pointy certainty–and then use it to jab holes in anyone else’s point of view. (“Well, I think… so I don’t agree…”) Discussions were more like clusters of I statements, all planted ramrod straight into the classroom floor. And so I started to ask my students to speak from the “I”–and listen as “we.” In my work as a consultant, I broaden this concept into “yes, and…” thinking. Borrowing from the improvisational acting game, I ask each person to speak from their own experiences, perspectives and truths, and to accept other, sometimes unfathomable experiences, perspectives and truths. They don’t have to agree or even get where other people are coming from. They just have to accept it, not diminishing either their own or the other’s truth, but letting the contradictions and tensions be.
- Asking, “What are at least 3 ways I could look at this?” For example, expectant mother parking: It could be the result of lobbying on the part of spoiled and greedy moms. It could be a helpful social recognition of a temporary and sometimes debilitating medical condition. It could be just another example of identity politics. It could be something I’m grateful not to need myself and blessed to be able to afford for others. It could be something that’s just making me grumpy because I’m in a rush and parking is limited. It could be no big deal to me tomorrow, or even right now if I just take a breath. OK, I went beyond 3–and that’s what often happens when we let go of our certainty and make space for what we don’t know, and what’s possible. By the time I consider multiple perspectives (including my most narrow and ungenerous ones), it’s hard for me to be so indignant. Because I actually have considered other points of view.
Of course, it’s all about practice. Getting our 10,000 hours in, as Malcolm Gladwell might say. Because compassion is no less a skill than writing or playing a violin.
So I invite you to join me in practicing “yes, and…” and perspective-taking the next time(s) you find yourself jump to judgment. Maybe when you see someone park illegally in a reserved spot.