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and proper little hats and dresses. I was even shown how to sit down on the
floor properly, sliding one leg behind my body discreetly. For tea with the
dean of the women’s college I attended, a basic black sheath dress, white
gloves, and a hat with a froth of meshy lace was de rigueur. How much more
comfortable we all were in sweats and jeans, poring over our texts, debating
with professors over dinner, or talking politics in our dorms.
Acting like a lady had a lot to do with being proper. Both were com-
mands: thou shalt act like a lady or else. Both carried unwritten rules of
conduct, including sitting still with a straight back, crossing your legs at
the ankle, never the knee, saying please and thank you, never interrupting,
and letting a man win in any kind of game or competition. My father stood
at the bottom of the stairs every Sunday morning to inspect our attire and
determine if we were properly dressed for church. I was not a mean-spirited
child. I was, however, passionately curious, wanting to understand the why
of things. Curiosity and being proper rarely shook hands. Much of my life
consisted of questioning, breaking, and eliminating unnecessary rules.
Janet’s point about civility is that we can disagree and still be respect-
ful. We can have differences and still be colleagues. We can cocreate a space
where we can resolve our conflicts. Amen! However, if being civil is the
same as avoiding conflict, I am one uncivil person. To me, going deeper and
addressing the story behind the story is the only way to alleviate the deeper
pain. Short-term fixes and pretending to be happy when we are not eventu-
ally make us—or me, at least—sick. Is it possible to be nice and confronta-
tional? You bet. Is it possible to have disagreements and still be colleagues?
You bet. Is it possible not to like a colleague but to respect her? You bet. All I
am saying is give honesty a chance. Give me respect over niceness any day!
Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan
Dancing with Conflict
I was so very moved by the notion of grown-ups mak-
ing children choose. In Janet’s introduction, Ana had to
choose who was spelling her name correctly, and unfor-
tunately, this is not uncommon. My sister’s name is Johniça with a cédille,
a French accent mark, under the c in her name. The cédille changes a hard c
sound (like k) into a soft c sound (like s). The teachers in our school decided
that it was too much work (for them) to pronounce my sister’s name cor-
rectly and to type it, so they dropped the cédille and called her JOHN-nika
OU R WAY TO SIN CER ITY 9