I am not the most cultured guy in the world. For example, I love convenience store deep-fried food that has sat under a heat lamp for an entire day paired with a 44 ounce Diet Coke. Yes, Diet Coke. Don’t judge me for enjoying a Diet Coke with a super fatty food choice. I prefer dive bars over upscale restaurants. I grew up in Albany, so what can I say? Access to more refined activities was limited and I grew up in a very blue-color family.
In an effort to expand my culture experience, I purchased Stephanie and myself tickets to several theater events this year. Last night, was our second outing to the theater and we saw the opera, “Madame Butterfly.” Now, I had heard of “Madame Butterfly.” I had seen posters, print ads and caught small glimpses of it via commercials over the years. I had deduced in my head from the elegant geisha on the banner ad and my false assumptions about opera, that the story of “Madame Butterfly” was a love story about a WWII naval officer and that of a sophisticated geisha.
As I sat through the first act, it became clear my assumptions regarding the opera were flawed. I discovered the finely dressed Naval officer was in all honesty, the drunk purchaser of an under aged prostitute from a marriage broker (pimp in my book). The beautiful geisha on the cover of my program turned out to be a child. Her age is first estimated to be 10 by an American official who attends the mockery of a wedding. Instead of a love story, I got to listen to an American Naval officer overtly expresses his “burning” desire for his “little” wife while she pleads to be loved like a child.
As the first act ended with the naval officer carrying off the young girl to bed, I was horrified and outraged as the curtain drew shut. As we wandered out to the lobby during intermission amongst the finest clad and most refined people in Portland, I expressed my disdain to Stephanie over the content of what we had just witnessed. I was incensed my fellow Portlanders didn’t feel the same way. I asked Stephanie what people would think if “Madame Butterfly” were redone in English and set in the modern era.
Would the tragedy of a young girl sold to a middle-aged man for sex be as celebrated? And when we learn the young girl becomes pregnant, is abandoned and left to raise a newborn baby boy, would we think it is artful or disgusting? And when the final scene unfolds and we are forced to watch the poor young girl kill herself out of despair, I have to ask myself, should we stand and applaud the actress for her brilliant performance or stand open-mouthed at the horror we just encountered?
My viewing of “Madame Butterfly” reminded me of the importance of direct observation. I had built-in assumptions regarding the story and opera in general. It was only by watching, listening and engaging with the opera did I truly understand what it was all about. It is the same with people. We make assumptions based on what we see and think to be true. It is only when we sit down and observe, listen and engage with employees or customers that we discover what is really happening. I have a new label for what I am now going to call making assumptions where no direct observations have been made. For me it will now always be called Butterflied.
Do you have anything you’ve Butterflied? When was the last time you actually observed a manager coach someone? What might you learn from intently watching your customers interact with your employees? What false assumptions might have crept into your life?