The first Christmas present I gave my husband was a bauble I’d found on the tube.
We moved into our first home a week before Christmas on a tight budget. That year our decorations were limited to a slightly tired tree and a bauble that had fallen off a drunk guy’s Christmas hat somewhere between Leicester Square and Tooting Bec.
It started a family tradition of buying one decent decoration every year and it’s working! Twenty-three years in, and our tree is full of special baubles. Each one has a memory, like a door from the year we bought our first house, the star from our first child’s first Christmas and the terrifying giant robin from the year I mistakenly let my five year old choose.
In 2011 I found the perfect addition to our bauble collection. It was little elves tucked up in bed that the guy at the stall was personalising with the names of family members! I was with two of my kids (aged 8 and 6 at the time) and pregnant with my youngest so we started looking for a 5-elf version.
There were options from 1 to 8 family members – including pets! The only problem was that we couldn’t find a combination that looked like our family. So I asked the guy selling them…
Me: These are great! We buy a special decoration every year and I love your elves! Do you have any brown ones?
Manager: No, we only have normal ones.
The first thing I noticed was the sound of my kids literally gasping. It was a nudge and reminded me that this was a great opportunity to model one way of dealing with casual bias on a day to day basis. Something my kids were going to have to navigate repeatedly as they grow older. On this occasion, I chose to stay calm, smile and invite the fella into a courageous conversation.
Me: Normal ones? That’s an interesting description.
Even though I kept my tone light he flashed a tinge of guilt which manifested and defence with a side of sexism!
Manager: Alright love, no need to get a chip on your shoulder. I’m just saying no one ever asks for brown ones.
I responded with full-fat Jaz – facts delivered with endearing charm and an irresistible call to action!
Me: Ahh, I see. Except, that’s no longer true is it? Because I’m asking for brown ones. A family of brown elves would be super cool and bring you more profit!
He was running out of steam by this time and clearly wanted to close the discomfort down.
Manager: Well, there’s no such thing as brown elves.
I toyed with the idea of breaking it to him that elves, in fact, were a totally fabricated construct meaning his entire business model was based on a throne of lies… but wasn’t convinced that would go anyway to me landing myself with a family of five brown elves!
Me: I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. I’ll buy this one for now, colour the faces in with a Sharpie and then come back next year. Gives you a chance to source some niche elves.
The next year he saw me coming and pretended to be engrossed in wrestling with a giant roll of bubble wrap.
Me: Hello again! Remember me? Got any brown elves yet?
A few years later we had a breakthrough when he actually smiled instead of rolling his eyes as I approached. He was genuinely excited to see me and told me I would be pleased to hear that he had a new product line.
Then tried to sell me a family of five reindeer!
Me: Yeah, I see what you’ve done there and you’re getting closer. Right colour, wrong species.
We’ve gotten to know each other over the years. Through brief interactions, we found some common ground as humans. The last time we chatted he told me someone else had asked about different varieties of elves and it got him thinking so had reached out to see if his wholesaler if could lay his hands on any brown ones. Progress in the decoration department but even more so in the connection one.
I’m not discounting the experience of our first interaction. Far from it! His throwaway comment about ‘normal ones’ made me angry. But in that moment, I made a choice. I had the capacity required to meet him with empathy so I pushed my fear aside and jumped in.
I’m not always in that headspace. If I gifted a courageous conversation every time I faced some form of bias, well, I’d have no time left to shop for funky Christmas decorations, that;s for sure. My choice is to meet people where they are and to engage whenever I can. Why?
I want change more than I want to be right.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to be right a lot (just ask my husband!) I just want things to improve more than I want to be in the right.
Change requires collaboration. I’ve repeatedly found people to be one sandwich away from accepting an invitation into a courageous conversation if I can just find the bravery needed to invite them.
What do you want to change in 2023?
Starting in January I’m inviting you to your own personal 10% Braver Bootcamp. Sign up and I’ll send you a short weekly video with a new challenge each week. There are still a few spaces and I’d love to spend a month with you!
P.S. The photo is an incredible gift from my fantastic friend Charlie made for me this year! She couldn’t find brown elves either so bought white ones and hand dyed them! Check out the hairstyles too! It’s Team Ampaw-Felves!