I recently stumbled across the headlines that celebrated the 40th birthday of the Sony Walkman.
This news makes me feel incredibly old, no doubt. I was, at the same time, reminded with a jolt of how impactful this little revolutionary device was for me. As a teenager, of course. And beyond that. Yes, the Walkman even shaped my career path.
I had wanted a Walkman from the moment my pre-teen ears were first awakened by the world of rock music in the 80’s. (Why does just saying the words “rock music” make me feel old???!)
I diligently worked on the farm, gathering eggs for weeks, to save up enough money to buy the shiny, yellow sports Walkman.
You remember, right? This baby! ——————————–>
My mind was blown by Led Zeppelin and The Who and Queen (OK, Guns and Roses, too)… And mix tapes, of course. Oh the mix tapes. It was the 80’s.
Until… one day my precious Walkman went missing from my locker. Weeks went by and during that time I had roused all my friends into a vigilante rage, on the lookout for the scumbag thief who so easily had robbed me of EVERYTHING important in my life (yes, I was a shade melodramatic as a teenager).
I had lost all hope.
Then. One day, unexpectedly, a friend ran up to me at school with the news he’d spotted my beloved yellow Walkman in the possession of MC (yes, those are his real initials!), a kid from my bus.
It was almost comical (if it weren’t so concerning) how quickly a posse of enraged teenagers leaped to into action to rain down justice on MC on my behalf. But, knowing intuitively that it wasn’t fair to jump to conclusions (even though the circumstantial evidence was indeed incredibly damning), I knew I needed to confront him myself. So, I called off the posse, approached MC on our lunch break and asked him if we could talk.
The conversation didn’t go very well. MC immediately denied the Walkman was even mine (although I could easily identify exact scuff-marks that proved it!) and he got very defensive. For my part, probably making the approach with my gang of friends frothing at the mouth down the hall wasn’t a great way to start a conversation. As he denied responsibility, I got madder and made more forceful accusations and we quickly descended down the defend/attack spiral into hell. All with an audience.
Eventually, MC handed over the Walkman with a shrug, saying with a passive aggressive tone: “Well, if you think it’s yours, I’ll give it to you… But it’s not yours.”
I took the Walkman. But was left feeling wholly unsatisfied with this outcome.
There’s a lot more I could say about this story. Suffice it to say, this exchange between two 16 year old kids that took place in the mid 80’s about a Walkman had a lasting effect on me.
- Very quickly, the presenting issue became totally irrelevant. What I needed was for MC to take responsibility. Getting my Walkman back was a distant bonus.
- Taking responsibility is hard. It was clear to me from our exchange that, although he wouldn’t admit it, MC was well-aware of what he had done. He was ashamed. He just couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge it.
- Forgiveness is sometimes just a breath away. If MC could have said, “Yeah, I did it and it was stupid of me” or some other meagre, half-way apology, I could have let the whole thing go. I still get a bit mad when I think about it. (Yes, 30+ years later. I’m not proud of that.)
- My behaviour did not help him take responsibility. Instead, I approached him with judgement in my heart and righteousness leaking from every pore in my body. The conversation was doomed because of this.
- There has got to be a better way to have conversations about stuff like this. I think it’s no coincidence that I started my career in mediation at a community Restorative Justice centre and now I focus on helping people at work have difficult conversations (e.g. like taking responsibility for their behaviour). MC and I sure could have used a mediator on that day back in 1987.
- The door to reconciliation isn’t closed. I never saw MC after high school. Not once. I have no clue where he is or what he’s doing (and yes, I’ve tried hunting him down on social media). I’d love to talk to him now. I’d ask him if he recalls “the Walkman debacle”. Then I’d smile and ask him what he remembers. Then, I’d listen to him.