Today has been an extremely fruitful day so far! Not only did I tremendously enjoy my first American Tribal System belly dancing class with a new teacher, but she's willing to barter with me for the training! That means I can actually take the class, thank goodness — especially considering my tightly budgeted finances as a doctoral student. Further, during the class I had a small mental revelation which explains a few things I'd wondered about for a while now. Any day where I have a fun, lightning-bolt mental moment is a good day!

I'd actually taken one ATS class years ago, which was quite interesting, but not as fun as this class. There were a couple of reasons why, which I realized after the class when I had a moment to think about it. For one, the class this time was smaller, which allowed for more personal attention and encouragement from the instructor. Unsurprisingly, I consequently also never felt lost or left behind — a big win! For another, I have no idea what quality of dancers the two instructors were… but without question, for a rank beginner like me, this teacher today was far more helpful, friendly, personable, encouraging, and… well, instructive.

As class was ending, the instructor said something which really clicked for me: she mentioned that she'd been an air force brat for a while, and thus knew what it felt like to be the new kid. That was why she made an effort to welcome newcomers and make sure they were comfortable: she understood how unpleasant it can be to be the outsider.

I mention this because I've seen situations where people I knew were ordinarily thoughtful and kind did things that were just plain hurtful. For example, I was once seated in a circle of women where one of them — a very quiet, shy woman — had the only empty chair next to her. Since I too like knowing everyone present is having a nice time, I was pleased to see not all of us had arrived yet, as that meant the shy woman would have someone next to her to talk to. I was rather shocked, therefore, to watch the next woman walk in, look around, then take the empty chair and drag it halfway around the circle so she could push it into the middle of her group of friends — who shifted a bit to make room for her.

I understand there may be some people who perform such micro-aggressions deliberately, but I'm not talking about them — I'm talking about the unconscious many who have no idea how hurtful they may have been, and wouldn't wish to be so if they realized it. I couldn't help but wonder if, for example, this newly arrived woman realized what she'd done: she'd effectively told the shy person they weren't worth talking to. I've always wondered if this was a witting or unwitting brush-off. Did the newcomer miss the small flinch of the snubbed shy person? Would it really have killed the newcomer to sit next to someone different for a few hours?

I'm guessing now, though, that it wasn't intended as a rejection at all — it was just that someone who does something thoughtless like this does so because they have no idea what it is like to be effectively segregated and ignored in such a fashion. They haven't ever been the outsider or the new kid, and so they have no emotional connection to that position — and lacking any empathy for that particular mental state means they don't think to try to alleviate it.

That's what I'm guessing for now, at least. What do you think?


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