A lesson from The Princess Bride ~ By JT (Jerry) Fest
"I do not think it means what you think it means" ~ Inigo Montoya; The Princess Bride
Every fan of The Princess Bride who reads the title of this article will almost involuntarily say out loud, “You killed my father, prepare to die!” It’s one of the most memorable lines from the movie, and is so well known and loved that it even appears on T-shirts … such as the one I purchased. The shirt has imprinted on it an image of one of those standard conference “Hello, my name is” sticky name tags, and then in handwritten script it says “Inigo Montoya,” and in smaller letters underneath; “you killed my father, prepare to die!” The shirt, however, is only available in black. Not much of a problem here in Portland during the winter, or even during my recent trip to Philadelphia and Washington DC where it was cold and snowy. But I returned to Portland via Santa Monica, California, where they have this strange, glowing orb in the sky burning with fire.
After a few minutes it started to register that someone was yelling in my direction. I snapped out of my musing and turned to see the barista holding up my drink and shouting to get my attention, calling out what she assumed was my name: Inigo, INIGO! Apparently, instead of asking for my name, she had simply read my “nametag.” To her, my name was Inigo Montoya (yeah, yeah, I know … you killed my father, prepare to die!).
This was a classic case of misinterpreting something you see (thinking a message T-shirt was a real nametag), missing the cultural reference (the barista had obviously never seen The Princess Bride), and operating on a false assumption (my name is not Inigo). And these things don’t just happen between strangers in coffee shops … they happen in youth programs every day. Young people we do not know show up and we see how they are dressed, or their mannerisms, or the language they use, and we make assumptions about them. Even worse, sometimes their file shows up first and we make our assumptions based on the assumptions of others. Maybe we see a red bandana and assume that they are gang affiliated … when it’s possible they found a red bandana on the street and just want to keep the sweat out of their eyes. Maybe we see them being quick to anger and assume that they are aggressive and violent … when it’s possible they are scared to death and trying to survive in a violent culture, and being quick to anger is how they keep themselves safe. The point being that there’s only one way to really know a youth, and that’s to dedicate time and attention it takes to get to know them. Reading their file or interpreting their image just doesn’t cut it, and can leave you operating on assumptions that are about as true as my name being Inigo. Here’s the only safe assumption you can make when you meet a young person (or any person, for that matter); assume that you know nothing … NOTHING … about them. Don’t metaphorically rely on reading their “nametag.” Spend the time to get to know their real “name.”