Sept 2022


My husband and I went to dinner at Ci Siamo in NYC the other night. It’s one of our favorite places.

The reservation was at 9:30 (which is late for us) because I had been running a virtual Parlay House event until 9:00. We pushed past a homeless man at the door and entered the dining area.

This restaurant has a great vibe, and it was hopping. In fact, there seemed to be joy in the air.

We were seated in a lovely corner booth, the leather in the banquette still warm from the previous diners. The server was especially chirpy, opening our wine and taking our order with remarkable aplomb.

As we began our meal, the other diners were finishing theirs. Table by table, they stood up to leave. And table by table, each one walked past ours even if we weren’t in the direct path to their exit.

“Do you know who was sitting there before you?” they asked.

The next passer-by gave us the answer. “It was Barack and Michelle.”

“You just missed them.”

The next couple complimented us on having received the perfect booth and provided an even more detailed description, “He sat where you are, and she sat where your husband is.”

Barack Obama had warmed my seat for me.

“She wasn’t hungry and just nibbled,” said the next group. “But boy, could he eat!”

“They had charcuterie,” said a table of six.

“Those love birds leaned in close and whispered to each other all night,” said two women who had clearly been starstruck.

The descriptions continued.

* * *

My first thought was to ask my husband to switch seats with me because I wanted to sit where Michelle had been.

I love her sense of grace and poise, her fierce protection of her family, and the way she holds her own power with directness, confidence and warmth.

But aside from my Michelle-crush, it led me to think about what it’s like to sit in their seats, to walk in their shoes, and to go through life without anonymity. They may have been having a fabulous evening or in a heated argument, but in the hot spot of public view, they had to look loving whether they felt it at that moment or not.

In fact, it led me to wonder whether we might develop a better understanding if we sat for a moment in each others’ proverbial seats to feel how they move through the world (or publicly eat dinner).

For celebrities like the Obamas, every movement is observed. Every bite is counted. Every outfit is scrutinized. There didn’t seem to be any haters in the restaurant that night, but I’m sure not a day goes by when their interactions with others aren’t challenging.

For people who are struggling, like the guy we breezed past as we walked into the restaurant, they go through their days invisible, neglected, and ignored. If noticed, it’s with an upturned nose or a swiftly turned back.

Then there is the majority of us who sit somewhere in the middle of being seen and unseen, overheard and unheard.

Such a range of experiences in the same city. Such a range of experiences on the same planet.

These observations led me to wonder how we can better see each other, hear each other, and sit in each other’s seats to close that gap.

My gut feeling is to do that through empathy.

Like or hate Barack and Michelle, taking a few minutes to imagine what it feels like to be them, to be scrutinized, loved, despised, admired, blamed, glorified, and besmirched all during one meal, provides a lot of context.

And while I vaguely remember the homeless guy, I can assume that he, too, is the recipient of both kind and cruel observations from passers-by.

Most of us are recipients of that harsh judgment by those who don’t sit in our seats or walk in our shoes.

* * *

So how do we start closing that gap?

I believe that we can’t always know where people are until we ask.

While I couldn’t ask Barack and Michelle (I’d already missed them and got the sense that the Secret Service would not have allowed me to scooch up to Michelle), I failed to take a minute to check in on the guy who asked us for money on our way in. Shame on me.

That missed opportunity reminds me of a quote by a stoic philosopher named Epictetus, who was born into slavery and later became an influential thinker at the highest levels in Greece. He said, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen as much as we speak.”

I like that observation as a starting point.

We can start by listening rather than assuming.

Asking about someone’s story, even briefly, opens the pathway for them to tell you where they are coming from and what it feels like to be them. We don’t have to assume. We can actually know where they are.

Think about it. Is there someone who perplexes you or that you think you know but have never really asked about their life? Now’s the time to hear about the experiences that shaped them.

Is there someone you know and admire who may feel a bit intimidating because you’ve put them on a pedestal of some sort? My guess is that when they share their story, you’ll find a way to build a connection of equals.

Their story is probably messy, and their path wasn’t likely straight.

Some of your assumptions may have been right, and others were dead wrong. But more than likely, you’ll find commonalities with them the deeper you get. I’m pretty sure that would have been true if I’d talked to Michelle and Barack and equally true if I’d stopped to listen to the man outside of the restaurant.

If you’re thinking, “Anne, you couldn’t have talked with the Obamas, and you wouldn’t have stopped to hear the story of the homeless man while you were rushing to dinner.”

You’re right, of course. But those polar examples are the framework for the real listening we can do if we just turn off the judgment, ask a question, and hear the story that unfolds.

* * *

How will you close the gap?

Share it Small: Did you ever misunderstand someone because you judged them before you knew them? It’s never too late to correct that misperception and start again. Ask about their life, and you’ll be amazed by what you hear.

Share it Big: Have you found commonalities with someone you thought was completely different than you? Tell them how you are similar or can relate to their story! It’s the perfect way to see them and to begin to build connections that you never could be there.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your power.