I was in a meeting today, one of those long affairs where freshments get brought in. I was sitting at the far end of the room, really hoping for a trolley with pastries and coffee to arrive. Even the odd piece of fruit would have been okay.
The moment came …
The door opened …
The trolley came in.
There were no pastries, just fruit.
I was sitting at the very end of the room, so I would have had to climb over four people to get to the trolley. Fortunately someone else picked up the cups, coffee and fruit and dumped them all on the table. Not in the middle like normal people, but smack at their end of the table. No one passed anything around and only when there was a break in the presenter’s flow did some cups make it half-way down the table. With some very acrobatic reaching I managed to secure a cup for myself and the woman sitting next to me.
Now I take sugar in my coffee which means I need a spoon to stir it with. The spoons had been left on the trolley. Just I was about to throw professional courtesy to the wind and either
A) hurl myself across the conference table to grab spoons, coffee and fruit
B) interrupt the discussion and ask someone to pass the coffee, fruit and get me a spoon
I noticed that there was no milk. At that point none of it really mattered.
While I was listening to the rest of the discussion, I kept looking at those spoons.
The person who ordered the trolley obviously does not take milk.
The person who took charge of the trolley obviously does not take sugar. And selfishly ate all the fruit.
It made me think of how fine the line can be between making others feel included and just taking care of yourself. How our smallest gestures can influence the way we’re perceived by others.
We can go through life thinking that everyone is the same as us. Likes the same things as we do, acts the same way as we do, reads the same genres as we do.
Or we can open our eyes and realise that our way is not the only way. Because while some people drink their coffee black, some will want milk and a little sugar. But that doesn’t mean they should feel any less welcome at the conference table.
So give them a spoon.