It’s official: I am a weirdo

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Have you ever done something big and dramatic and embarrassing and public? And laughed at yourself? And realized with a soft smile of acceptance that it’s a pretty good commentary on your true self, while still shaking your head at your weirdness?

Today I was in a workshop at a teaching and learning conference. The session, facilitated by a lovely, intelligent and competent graduate student, had us reflect in groups on our ideal educational system and then report back its key characteristics.

All was going smoothly, with relevant, brief and inclusive commentary by a few groups. Then an older gentleman stood up for his group, stated very clearly that the focus of his presentation was focused on his particular field of education, and proceeded to detail in sequence the six components of his model. After he had been talking for quite a while, the facilitator stepped in and asked him politely to wrap things up. He shrugged her off in a way that had her retreat apologetically, and he continued to hold forth. A number of minutes later, he went up to the board and in spite of the outcry from the group, started writing on the whiteboard with a permanent marker. The facilitator managed to get his attention to swap out markers, and she again asked him to wrap up. Then again, a few minutes later, she asked him again. He shooed her away with a rude expression.

At this point, I went from agitated to action within 2 seconds. The mild offense of someone who felt his own views were of more value than others was combined with the universal offense of not honouring the position of the facilitator, and magnified multiply by the offense of an older male demeaning an capable younger woman.

I stood up and started shouting out to him, “You need to stop! She has asked you to stop!” When I realized he wasn’t going to stop, I moved. I slid across the table in front of me saying, “I’m not okay with this!” (what?!). Okay, I was clearly in fight mode at that point. My heart rate up, my vision tunneled, everything hyper-real. I moved quickly to the front of the room and put my hand on his shoulder. I spoke loudly and directly to him: “You need to stop. She has asked you to stop. You need to sit down.” Over and over again, until he finally stopped and took his seat. And I went back to my seat.

I returned, laughing inside at how ridiculous I must look. I jumped up and shouted out in the middle of a public presentation. I slid across a table and got a speaker to sit down. Who does that?! In front of their colleagues, too?!

I wasn’t asking for praise for my actions, but I had quite a few people thank me for what I did. I approached the presenter after to apologize, not knowing if my actions had been helpful or had invaded her space. Fortunately, she was gracious and grateful. And I can see myself doing something like that again in the future, knowing what I know about my response to what I perceive as injustice or mistreatment of others. I am fortunate I live in such a law-abiding society, or who knows where my need to intervene might land me?

It took a few minutes for my heart rate and breathing to slow, and I’m still in a bit of shock over the incident. It was interesting to realize that this type of thing is something that I do, albeit rarely. I do get angry over unfair treatment of others; I do have a tendency to act rather than not; I’m willing to put myself on the spot. And it might look really weird from the outside, and so be it.

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