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I had a very meaningful interaction with a young man who was detailing my car at the gas station.

He first got my attention initially because he was taking a good amount of time cleaning my car and I was feeling a little impatient. He kept going back to all the spots he had already cleaned to look for anything he missed, wiping and scrubbing. He even took the time to detail out all the edges of the rims to remove all the baked-on brake dust which is a peeve of mine. I remember appreciating that he took a lot of pride in his work and it was an impressive job, the car looked great. He then turned and walked toward me with a smile to hand me my keys. “All done boss,” he said in a friendly tone. As I nodded and smiled I felt a twinge of uneasiness about being called “Boss” and handed him $10 thinking this was a good amount for a job well done.

I stepped into the car and noticed a part of the console had been left untouched so I gestured to him and pointed and he smiled “no problem boss, I’ll take care of it” as we traded places.

Within a minute or so he stepped out of the car and gestured that he was done and waited by the door.

I drove to the pump to fill up but felt even more uneasy with his second reference to me as “boss”. Hearing this just felt out of place and stuck in old stereotypes that should have been transcended decades ago. It made me wonder who or where he heard this saying and how he was passing it along generationally, apparently unaware of the message it was sending.  I wondered if in some way this may hold him back in his life and I wanted to find a way to bring this to his attention. 

I gave this more thought as my tank filled and saw him walking toward the building with an arm full of wet towels and decided to get out of my comfort zone and have a conversation. As I walked toward the building my mind raced, “how do you say something about this to someone?”. “Will he be angry”, “will he get my intention is to serve him?”, “Is this just another white man telling him what to do?”, “Do I really want to do this?”. 

I rounded the corner there he was, just inside an open door stooped over a washing machine. He recognized me and looked a little confused. I would say he was about 16 or so, not quite 6’ and well mannered.   “Excuse me, what is your name?” I asked. Since he is a minor I’ll leave his name out but I remember thinking it t was a very unusual and distinguished name I had never heard before. “Excuse me,” I asked? He repeated it and showed me his name tag as I tried to pronounce it.

I looked down, opened my wallet and pulled out two twenty-dollar bills, and said, “This might sound kind of strange but…” as I paused, not sure how he would receive what I was about to say, I outstretched my hand with the money… “I want to give this to you because I want to get your attention”.  Now he was looking very confused as he slowly reached out and took the money out of my hand. I said, “You can call me sir because we don’t know each other or because I’m a customer but please don’t call me boss”. 

In an encouraging tone, I said “We’re living a different world and these are different times, we all need to do what we can, calling people “boss” is sending the wrong message”.

I apologized and I think I said that I hope he wasn’t offended. He looked straight at me, smiled, and nodded his head in a reassuring way. He seemed appreciative and I think he knew I was trying to help him. I felt a sense of ease and could see he was now more deep in thought than confused. 

We both reached out for a handshake and nodded. It was an honest moment between two strangers. We broke with a slight wave as we smiled and walked away from each other. 

If he had been a white young man calling me boss I would have found it a little odd but I honestly don’t think I  would have given it much more thought. But receiving this from a young black man, in the times we are living in today tapped into a sense of anxiousness I have been feeling about how divided we are as a people and as a nation. But this moment was not about race or politics. It was simply an opportunity to share some wisdom and insights with a young person. I have certainly appreciated the moments in my life when someone sincerely took me aside and respectfully gave me feedback, with nothing to gain and expecting nothing in return.  I hope this was one of those moments for him.

I drove away imagining the qualities of the parents who raised such a good and sincere young man who takes pride in his work.

Harvesting Wisdom:

When something is missing in a situation, a communication, or an opportunity, be willing to fill it. Stop waiting to get it perfect.


Get out of your thinking mind and act on the goodness of the impulse and the intention.

















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