Purple People Eaters

blueberries and the words call me purple

Circa 1 b.c. to 1 a.c. (Before Covid / After Covid)


Nine-thirty at night is pretty late for us “over 50” types. Inspired by a shared bottle of wine, though, the engaging conversation continued on myriad topics with Chuck, my soon-to-be great friend. Eventually, the conversation strayed to that neverland of politics. Panic struck as Chuck raised the dreaded question, “Red or Blue?”

“Huh?” I replied astutely.

“Republican or Democrat. You know, red or blue?” he pressed.

“Purple.” It was a one-word reply made with zero seconds’ hesitation.

I’ve been ready for that question since 2 b.c.*[1], when the first Karens started popping up spewing their pseudofacts and quasi-information sourced from social media. At the heart of Karen’s persuasive techniques are polarizing questions, the answers to which put us either “with them or against them.” Now, Chuck isn’t a Karen, but she sure rubbed off on him.

“Purple? Come on, don’t avoid the question. What side are you on? Do you care about people or make sure big corporations avoid taxes?” I smelled a logical fallacy. I was ready.

“Chuck, dude, you know me. I want to help people and minimize taxes for everyone. Socially, I identify as democratic. In business, I’m republican. So, I’m not blue. I’m not red.” “Well, what are you?” Chuck pressed. “They call me purple,” I replied.

We became great friends that night, Chuck and I. We learned to speak each other’s language and look for the intended meaning behind the words. Most importantly, we were reminded that giving binary answers to non-binary questions is bad voodoo. Misunderstandings are inevitable when you’re asked what 2 plus 2 is and you reply “Apple.” Most answers in today’s world are best understood in a range, or spectrum, rather than a yes or no.

We give so much power to words and how we react to them, and so little power to understanding what the words were intended to mean and do. It’s getting worse. In today’s world, one simple faux pass, and you’re buried in a mountain of Karens with no hope of digging out.

Let me give you a real-world example.

Out of all the hosts in America, OutsideAgents.com has the largest population of blind agents – 52 at last count. It all started out with Cheryl.

She called to let me know that parts of our site were hard to read. I told her to press <control><+> to zoom in. She laughed and explained that it was hard to read for her screen reader. I finally put 2 and 2 together, and for the next 20 minutes or so, we talked about what would be necessary to make the site more accessible. In that time, I must have used 17 different synonyms for “visually impaired,” until Cheryl finally chimed in laughing, and said, “Chad, you know I know I’m blind, you can use the word…lol!”

Cheryl broke the ice and opened my eyes wide open in just 11 words – six fewer than the number of synonyms I’d used. There I was, dancing around what needed to be done for fear of using one wrong word. I was forsaking the many for fear of offending the few.

We learned a lot that day and implemented the changes Cheryl recommended. Then, we proudly announced to the world, “We’ve just released new features to make being an agent even easier for those with special needs.” “BOOM! In flew the Karens, and all was (almost) lost.

As it turned out, the word “special” is so offensive to some that the mere use of it brings them to a dead stop, unable or unwilling to help those around them until their offense is salved. A few people stopped dead in their tracks were so offended by a single word, that it became impossible to help those who needed the most help. Well, folks, as Paul Newman said in the movie, Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” As we learned in the film, something has to give. In this case, it’s going to be Karen and us. Let me explain.

Karen is going to learn to hear what we mean, and we’re going to do what we say. Simple!

You see, communication is the key to most things in life. Knowing what your spouse means when she says “fine” or “whatever” can be the difference between a cozy night and a chilly one.  Communication means not just knowing what was said, but understanding what was meant. I mean, I can know that a tomato is technically a fruit. That’s knowledge. If I understand what a tomato is, though, I know not to put one in a fruit salad. That’s an insight. So, when you understand what your clients mean, you can offer them more than knowledge, you can give them the benefit of your insights.

So, how can we insightfully discern and adequately fill the unique needs of clients like Cheryl?

We can:

It’s a proven fact that we can’t please all the people all the time. But in an industry like ours, shouldn’t we give it the old college try? Where do we begin to address the needs of the Cheryl’s in our customer base?

Perhaps the answer is staring us square in the eye.

Maybe it’s more about shifting OUR perspective and framing delivery of our services in the industry. What I mean is that our attention likely has been focused on being politically correct, when we really need to examine what we offer our customers—each and every one of them! Rather than looking at them as having special needs, why shouldn’t our industry simply do what it does and provide a full range, a spectrum, of exceptional services? After all, we are a service industry, aren’t we?

Perhaps it’s time to re-examine and realign the services we provide so we can focus on the experiences we create.  Maybe it’s time to get past the talk and take the walk.  Aren’t actions more important than words?  Let’s pull Karen along as we get past being triggered over words so we can pull the trigger on doing something cool, noble, and needed.  Call it “special needs,” “exceptional experiences,” or even “meta services” (I made the last one up), I don’t care.  What I do care about is helping Cheryl.  I care about understanding her needs and managing her expectations.  I care about Cheryl being carefree and laughing like nobody’s watching because she knows I covered all the bases.  I care and I want to be able to show it without fearing that one word can derail everything.

I, for one, fully support and applaud every agency, vendor, supplier, or agent that promotes their special services to their list of regularly available offerings! Not only that, but I’ve personally committed to making them a priority at OutsideAgents.com. Our “Spectrum of Special Needs” initiative brings together myriad partners and experts in an immersive training and support program that takes a holistic approach to experience management.  Through effective communication, Spectrum seeks to manage expectations and deliver amazing experiences for those with special needs, those that travel with them, and the vendors they travel with by leveraging technology, a global network of agents, first-hand experience, and, of course, heart.

So, red or blue?  Who are you?  How will you define yourself?  Check-box or scale?  Who will you be and what memories will you create?  The question is not “are you ready?”  It’s “how ready are you?”  Answer the question and then do something about it.

Now, go be purple.




[1] Before Corona


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