It’s time to confess. There is a slight possibility that I may have sent a woman straight to hell. It wasn’t malice, it was ignorance. But, I worried for years that she was going to hell nonetheless. At the very least, I had blocked the spiritual potential of her soul, according to one article.
As a professional communicator, I know that the most effective writing or training acknowledges the audience’s culture and beliefs.
But I stumbled across the importance of cultural competence long before that.
I was in college, working in a small restaurant near the entrance to Milwaukee’s only mall. A couple of older women came in, taking forever to settle into the small booth and arrange their shopping bags around them. They would be my last customers of the shift and I wanted to get started on their order quickly.
“What’ll you have?” I asked almost before they could study the menus.
The slightly older woman, the one with dark curly hair, said she was interested in our corned beef sandwich.
“Is it kosher?” she asked.
Now, you have to understand, I went to Catholic junior high, Catholic high school, and I was attending a Jesuit University. I didn’t really know any Jewish people; my only experience with them was with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, or the Fiddler on the Roof.
But I had heard the word, “kosher,” of course. When something wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite “on the up and up,” people said it wasn’t quite kosher. So I assumed she was asking whether our kitchen was clean, or whether the corned beef was really corned beef. And, again, I was in a hurry.
“Of course,” I replied. “Do you want cheese with that?”
Looking a bit startled, the woman declined and pursued, “You’re sure it’s kosher?”
Longing to be done with this order, I assured her that indeed it was.
And then I went back into the kitchen and sliced the corned beef on the big stainless steel slicer where we sliced corned beef, ham, turkey, cheese, pretty much anything that needed to be thinly sliced.
Then I brought the woman her sandwich. And maybe, sent her to hell. Or, at least, spiritual blockage.