Monday, September 16, 2019

Perspicacious

When a rider called me "perspicacious" I had no idea what the word meant.  I was a little worried it conveyed an insult.   A moment before he made sport of me by saying: "You're the captain of this ship." He was ribbing me about when I was supposed to depart from the time point in front of his low-slung cheap rent apartment complex. 

The apartment complex is in East Winston, or said another way "on the wrong side of the tracks." I was nervous about my first route in this part of town. Something caused me to pause and evaluate the nature of this interaction, to be present and interpret his tone rather than assume his words were malicious. As the exchanged played out it dawned on me that he was being playful.   I summoned the courage to ask him what perspicacious meant.  To his delight, he had stumped me. 

It is fun to tell this story because it is an example of a stereotype debunked.  I was thinking, "Here is a smart-aleck passenger coming out of an apartment complex in which I had conducted food security research a few years prior."  I thought I knew all about the inhabitants there and certainly that my vocabulary was superior.  But instead of acting superior, I asked him what it meant. 

To prove it's meaning he brought up the definition on his smartphone. Perspicacious means having a ready insight into and understanding of things.  What I could have mistaken as an insult turned into a precious compliment and a rich interaction with a passenger.  This sixty-something African American man was telling me that I had read the situation correctly.  Instead of getting defensive about his jabs regarding departure times, I had kept my head and realized he was playing with me. 

Who doesn't want to have a ready insight?  Who doesn't want to be praised as being shrewd? But I know it doesn't always apply to me.  I make mistakes.  I miss turns.   I get turned down for work that  I perceive I am well suited.  So what am I learning from these interactions with passengers?   

I am learning about what Paul Farmer describes as “a hermeneutic of generosity.”  I just finished reading Mountains Beyond Mountains because I wanted to learn about this luminary of Medicine, Public Health, and Anthropology who has spent his career partnering with the poor.  Here is the excerpt where Tracy Kidder defines the term:
“Depends on whether or not you have an H of G for the endeavor,” he [Farmer] said, without looking up.  
“An H of G” was short for “a hermeneutic of generosity,” which he had defined once for me [Kidder] in an e-mail: “I have a hermeneutic of generosity for you because I know you’re a good guy. Therefore I will interpret what you say and do in a favorable light..."
The danger of stereotypes is they often keep us from seeing the other person in a favorable light. This wily passenger ended up giving me a gift. If I assumed it was an insult I would have missed the precious present. His quick appraisal of me continues to give me reassurance as a neophyte bus driver. 

I am trying to interpret new experiences in a favorable light.  I want to be generous with my words and encourage passengers in the hopes of lifting their spirits. I hope you are given a compliment from an unexpected quarter.   It could change your outlook.
 

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