I’m taking a bit of a left turn from my employee engagement blog today to share something that touched me deeply this week in the hopes that it touches you and inspires something in you as well. It’s based on the life of Julia Child and it’s a scene from season one episode eight (“Foie Gras”) from the HBO Max show “Julia,” that explores her life as a television chef. (Disclaimer: I’m not sure if I’ve got the dialogue completely accurate.)
The scene begins with Julia having lunch at the Waldorf Astoria, where later that evening she will give an acceptance speech for her public television cooking show, “The French Chef.” While enjoying lunch, the chef at the Waldorf comes out to meet her. Julia greets Chef Andre warmly and after complimenting her on the show, he says she had better “leave the real cooking to the men.”
Later that evening in her speech, Julia explains her program. “What we’re actually making is a travel program. Television is like a window and the best of it opens to the most remarkable places. Food itself is like a passport, that the culture, the history, is locked inside the flavors and the aromas that are unique to each cuisine. I don’t cook for chefs. I cook for other cooks, for ordinary people, mostly women, housewives, and I say to them, ‘You have endless horizons far beyond the walls of your house, your block, your town. The whole world is your oyster.’ If you take the time it requires to make a great meal, then you may feel the same sense of accomplishment, of mastery, that I feel. And because I fail, they tend to believe it.”
Amidst applause, Julia goes back to her table and bumps into the American feminist writer and activist, Betty Freidan. Betty tells Julia that women are trapped by the feminine mystique – by the assumption that women are meant to find fulfillment in housework, marriage and child rearing. Julia states that that’s not been her experience. Betty goes on to say that Julia’s program isn’t helping things. She scolds Julia by saying, “You think you’re opening doors for women, expanding their horizons. What, a good meatloaf isn’t good enough? Now women have to prepare meals worthy of the finest chefs and still leave time for the children and the laundry? You’ve nicely raised the bar to professional levels on what it means to be a good wife. How can these women you have locked in a kitchen over a hot stove ever find time for anything else, let alone a career?”
I want to interject at this point. I’m not sharing this scene to promote one viewpoint over another. I was fascinated by the paradox. Is it either/or? Can we hold these two opposing views in our mind at the same time and say, maybe it’s not right/wrong, either/or? Maybe it’s yes…and. Maybe it’s both. There are many paradoxes in life. We’re told to “stand out” and we’re told to “fit in.” We’re told to “take small steps” and to “take big leaps.” We’re told to “be yourself/stand alone” and “go along with the team.” Would it be too simplistic of me to say, it depends and it’s in the details?
Let’s return to the end of the episode. Julia, with a forlorn look on her face, has walked away to be alone. She sits down and we hear a male voice ask if he can join her. She agrees. “I saw you from across the way and thought maybe you could use some company,” he says. He tells her he liked her speech very much. Julia mentions that there are people in there who can’t stand me. The man says, “Well, I like you just the way you are.” Julia introduces herself and the man says, “I’m Fred.”
To be seen, to be heard and listened to. That is powerful for our emotional healing. I had tears in my eyes when I realized the caring soul was of course, Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers. One of the stories I always remember Mr. Rogers sharing was advice his mother gave him when he was in times of stress. “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
We are reopening state buildings to the public on May 1. Many of us are coming back together and will be around people other than our family members for the first time. There will be a large range of emotions. Where are the helpers? For everyone’s sake I hope we all can be a “Mr. Rogers” to someone who is worried or fearful or anxious during these next few weeks and months. We need to feel seen, heard and listened to. I am happy to be that person for you or members of your team should the need arise.