When teachers get in the way

December 5, 2013

A friend of mine took me to the Museum of Fine Arts yesterday, and we saw the exhibit of Sargent watercolors.  The paintings were wonderful.

The exhibit was crowded.  It was difficult to get a position to view a painting from a distance from which one could see the detail, and it was difficult to get a position to read the supporting information on the wall.  The written material I thought was especially helpful, more so than these explanations, pointers, and interpretations often are.

I was standing close to a painting, reading its explication and looking back to it from time to time as I did so.  An older woman walked up and stood herself between myself and the wall.  I waited for her to do what she had come to do and then move so I could resume, or for her to realize she was blocking my view and move in some way so that we could share access.

She didn’t.  She remained there, pulled in the group she was leading, which then blocked even more of my access to what I had been trying to view, and commenced a lecture on the painting.

When I realized she was acting as if I weren’t there, I moved on.  I did not see having even a polite confrontation in a museum.

I looked at some more of the paintings in that room, and when I got to the doorway, I saw a museum guard, so I went up to ask her about whether groups are allowed to displace single viewers.  I explained to her what had happened and she told me she sees it all the time, it bothers her a lot and it is not acceptable behavior from the museum’s point of view, and that the process is to let the Visitors Center know.   I came to find out later that the person leading the group was actually a docent under the museum’s auspices — I had been willing to believe they were an ignorant visitor leading a group she had organized to bring to the museum.

This was not the first time I have found my access to viewing art at the Museum of Fine Arts blocked by the staff.  It happened a year or two ago, I think it was, when I wanted to see the colossal statue of Juno and they were setting up for a lecture in the hall and had closed it off.

In the iteration of the pattern that occurred yesterday, the woman lecturing on art got between me and a source of information provided by someone else.  She was quite self-assured, in her presentation to her group, of her own interpretation of the painting, but she was excluding me from having my experience of the painting.  I was reminded of people I am related to getting between me and spiritual resources, and instead insisting that Art and Culture were the only way to go, that I had to accede, as well, to their controlling my access to what art and culture were available to me, and that I was not part of the preferred  audience.

In the version I experienced yesterday as a grown-up who has found her own way back to what sources she needs, the whole thing was reduced to an annoying but almost silly incident.  I had some distance and detachment and it didn’t feel existential, more like a metaphor to help me process a past, more painful experience.  And when I did mention the incident to the Visitors Center to get some clarification about what the customs of the place are, and they insisted that I fill out a form, I thought later, “Ah, there’s the ‘Complaint Department’ my relatives were always telling me to take my complaints to.”  The kaleidoscope had turned enough to give me closure through a literal enactment on the physical plane.

That night I was fielding my mother’s regularly scheduled phone call, and, as usual, it was all about everybody else, and when I brought up a current consumer fraud issue that is on my plate and not getting resolved quickly enough for my emotional comfort, I got the response of her changing the subject.  We talk about other people’s consumer fraud issues ad nauseum and I am required by her to troubleshoot them and provide referrals, if not outright help.  It does not feel like a healthy role for me to play, and it probably isn’t, but what came to me last night is that if I put aside the issues of unfairness, unequal treatment, and even my own distress, I can make the case that the situation doesn’t work because I don’t actually need her help — the universe gives me another resource and that is the one apt for me.  What I do about being pulled into service on behalf of everybody else, willingly or not, is a separate issue, and clearly, if one looks at my life, a central one.  That will take me longer to sort out.  In the meantime, I will see what today brings.

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6 Responses to “When teachers get in the way”

  1. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    You are bringing into this picture too many personal interests and emotions, Diana. Try to think more objectively.

    You should have made a complaint and followed through on it. If the “guide” saw someone viewing one painting, she could have given her lecture about another and then returned when you were done. You might have reasonably asked her to do that. “Please do not block my view, Madam. You may return when I have finished here. I would not step in front of you.”

    Once or twice I have been eating in a company cafeteria when someone sweeping the floor expected me to get up and out of the way. They fire sweepers for that in a commercial restaurant. I simply told him he could go around and come back. He did not like hearing that but he did it.

    As to other complaints, always be aware that the first brush-off, or the first failure to answer a complaint letter, is routine. Experience has taught them that 90 % of people will drop the matter. Make it a matter of initial decision that you either follow through or do nothing at all.

    You help many other people you never see when you forcefully press a valid complaint. In the instant case, raising your voice a bit would have helped. The offender would not want a “scene.”

    • Diana Moses Says:

      After I asked the guard about who is supposed to accede to whom, I was prepared to let it go. She did not say I should or should have confronted the docent. The guard came up to me a little while later and asked me to present the matter to the Visitors Center. She doesn’t confront the docents either. When a bullied person fights back, if authorities see only that, they receive the punishment, and, regardless, institutions usually line up behind their employees.

      What I’m waiting for with respect to my consumer fraud problem is the paperwork from my credit card company to fill out to begin the investigation. They won’t send it out (again) until I wait a certain period of time, regardless of why it is taking so long for me to receive what they claim they’ve already sent me.

  2. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    That is odd. I had a recent fraud problem for $79. All I needed to do was call my bank and say that I had had no business with the outfit placing the charge.

    That was all they needed — no paperwork to mail in. And then just the other day, I received a letter saying their investigation was complete and the $79 charge had been refunded to my account.

    It was probably one of those situations where I had bought something a year ago and they tried to put over the “automatic continuing charge” racket.

    I have consented to that for my cell phone but not my land line phone and Internet. Verizon always tells me when they have placed a charge on my account.

    The “racket” aspect is when they do not tell you but try to slip it in long after you have forgotten, and you do not even know that by buying something one-time, you were in effect consenting to a continuing charge under the fine print.

    I think there should be a law that they must inform you each time, with a grace period to cancel the charge within five days or so.

    The guard was probably trying to stay out of it personally. Speaking up would have had some effect on the other parties present, and the “teacher” would likely have deferred to you to avoid embarrassment. Yet it would have rankled in her mind and taught her a lesson. “Wrong attitudes” can be counted against such persons, but you as a visitor to the museum would have risked nothing.

    I have seen younger women making fools of themselves by attempting “assertiveness” without the mind to back it up. But that would not be your problem, Diana. The audience would have been on your side.

    • Diana Moses Says:

      The fraud issue is more complicated than that, and resolving it has apparently been complicated by the fact that it turns out that the credit card company never fully completed the process of putting the account in my name after Willy’s death, so they have been addressing things to the Estate of William ….

      I had a friend in law school who had been a Buddhist monk for years. He was also over six feet tall and a guy. He explained to me that everybody has their own personal style or way of navigating the world that works for them, given their personality, gender, experience, etc. And that we need to use what works for us, because what works for someone else may not work for us. Same behavior may be received differently by others depending on who is doing it, too — sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander, quod licet iovi, non licet bovi (what is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to a cow), and all that. He pointed out that what would work for him would not work for me, and vice versa, and I saw his point.

  3. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    You are quite right in your conclusion, Diana. Each of us must find a satisfactory method of dealing with life’s challenges that we have the qualities and abilities to make work. That was my point about the young women with too much “assertiveness” training. A naturally forceful and determined woman is often much more effective with gentle, feminine persistency than with confrontational demands. Standing in place directly in front of the exhibit, refusing to move, and quietly answering every demand or request would have fatigued the other party into deferring to you. Asking questions is often effective, such as “Is it your usual practice to push other patrons out of the way ?” or “Why don’t you lead your group on to the next piece and then return ?”

    My military service taught me that bluff and bluster works only with easily frightened persons. When I was twenty and a Marine Coporal, a master sergeant tried to throw me out of his office. I stood firm and quietly repeated my statement as to supplies I was requesting, observing that these supplies should be available even though I had no means of checking on his work.

    He was instantly deflated and got so nervous he started repeating himself in a mumble ! Later, when I had returned to the captain’s office where I had my own desk, the master sergeant’s clerk came down to take my request again. I answered, “I just told him when I was down there!” The clerk answered, “I know. But you got him so shook up he forgot about it.” The captain I worked for had a good laugh at this.

    So some outwardly “tough” people have very thin shells, and cave in quickly when they encounter quiet but firm resistance. This is something that can be practiced and learned.

    Postscript : You should read the recent TIME article about failure of ACA. Broken medicine tablet on the cover. They agree with my judgment that it was not an incidental effect but a core element and central purpose from the beginning to take away from people their affordable, no-frills insurance plans and force them into a costly general pool to finance the whole jury-rigged scheme. Therefore I say, the man did not “mis-speak.” He lied, and contrived to keep his lie hidden for a few years.

    Yet even TIME comes up with its own NYT-like defense :

    People should have realized he would “sugar-coat” the whole thing in his initial discussions of it. (No lying. Just “sugar-coating.”)

    • Diana Moses Says:

      I did stand there, where I was. But I am short enough that she just ignored me and I could no longer have my view of the information on the wall or of the painting.

      I see inadequate management and a preference for staff with a certain style of doing their job. It helps to have an inkling of what one doesn’t know. Last night I “heard,” while I was grocery shopping, that I should buy toothpaste, I deflected the message with the rational thought that I already had another tube waiting at home for when I finish this one — but it turns out I don’t. It can be about toothpaste, but it can also be about big, important things.


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