Humans by Evan La Ruffa

One of my favorite Chicago coffee shops, The Coffee Studio in Andersonville, is a great place to grab high quality espresso or coffee. They make their drinks with care & serve Intelligentsia, for inquiring minds. That said, this post has nothing to do with their coffee. It has to do with the signage on their bathroom doors.

When you walk to the back of the shop to access the bathrooms, you see that they are both labeled, "HUMANS." I love that because it doesn't qualify or specify, it simply states that its intended use is for all humans.

That's the extent of the argument. No commas or logos, just a plain and simple ethos of equality. It's why the term "human rights" is used, and it's the basis for my entire outlook on ethnicity, language, culture, geography, citizenship, politics, and activism.

I have no desire or reflex to exclude.

What's that all about anyway? We're all humans.

Stories by Evan La Ruffa

The stories we tell ourselves tend to limit us more than facilitate our better self. "I'm this way. I'm that way. I don't do that well. I always do this."

Our youthful attempts to grasp at personality end up producing a reflexive, historical, and/or familiar sense that who we are and what we will be is predetermined, or somehow outside our control. We internalize other people's projections of us, or assume traits as if uncontested truths that we can't step outside of.

And why do that? Doesn't that approach rob us of our emotional & spiritual autonomy?

There's value in questioning the stories we've been telling about who we are. Especially the ones that box us in, keeping us in old, less-useful patterns that cater to versions of ourselves that prevent us from growing.

The stories we tell ourselves are the overlays for how we understand our place in this crazy thing called life.

Even so, we get to choose our own story. Do our experiences and specific context affect us? Undoubtedly. But that's the part to reconcile. We don't always have to double down.

We can split the difference too.

No Phone In The Coffee Shop by Evan La Ruffa

As of late, I've taken to leaving my phone in the car while venturing inside to my favorite coffee shops. I've noticed that the times when I have my phone on me, I default to checking it while waiting in line, or waiting for my macchiato after I've ordered it. The barista will be doing their thing, helping make my morning right, and I'll have my head down reading some shit I've probably already seen.

As of November, I've been leaving my phone in the car or in my bag during these moments.

I've had more conversations, I've connected more, and it's been cool. I invite you to join me in 'No Phone In The Coffee Shop' for a few months. I'd be interested what your thoughts are after trying it out for a month or more.

A few questions come to mind...

What is that discomfort we feel when idle? Is it something to do with being alone with our inner monologue?

Are we de-prioritizing social cohesion in favor of smartphone dopamine hits? Is there a value to limiting those hits?

Equal rights, no qualifier by Evan La Ruffa

The thing about saying we believe in equal rights is that there can't be any qualifiers. That's the nature of equality. For it to truly exist, we can't bend on the premise. I hate to be fundamentalist about anything, but I don't see equal rights as something we can compromise on.

There can't be exceptions, fine print, or motor mouthed radio disclaimers in the last 2 seconds of the ad. There can't be caveats, exemptions, addenda, waivers, extenuating circumstances, but's, or garbled explanations.

In a country with so much lofty rhetoric about equality for all, it's especially important that we not mince words.

As I dive into Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by Rev. angel Kyodo williams after hearing her speak a few weekends ago at Camp GLP, I'm reminded just how much work we have to do when it comes to living out our ideals.

There's no reason for recalcitrance, but we do have a long road ahead.

One thing we can't do, is abide the shuffling of feet, defensive rationalizations, or inaction.

As Americans existing in the present, we all need to be part of this conversation... especially when it becomes uncomfortable.

Squeaky wheels & context by Evan La Ruffa

The way we approach any situation always depends on context. Or at least it should. Applying one rule to getting what we want (usually, respect) runs the risk of missing out on obvious clues that'll help us achieve that goal. Squeaky wheels only get grease when the request is reasonable, justified, and approached in a way where everyone's dignity remains in tact.

Otherwise, squeaky wheels run off the rails without context, interactions suffer, and goals go by the wayside.

Whether it's a client, managing a team we work on, or someone providing us with a service, we're better off communicating fairly & giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Putting our foot down doesn't mean raising our volume.

(Dis)armed with stories by Evan La Ruffa

We're all armed with stories... but maybe our stories should really disarm us... We possess tales of caution, irreverence, disappointment, and victory. It's that breadth that can make gaps hard to bridge.

Being honest with ourselves about our stories and the perceptions we bring to certain ideas, places, and types, can help decipher why we each play the role we tend to play.

If we're armed with stories, the connotation is one of battle.

But our stories should do the opposite for us. They should give us a better understanding of our place in the world, not a default reaction to provide.

Our stories don't yield the universal truths we so often like to ascribe to them, but they do tell us something about ourselves.

You'll never walk alone by Evan La Ruffa

I recently spent 12 days in Costa Rica for my little sister's wedding. I officiated the proceedings, it was beautiful, and so so happy. After the wedding weekend, we made our way to another location for more chillin'. I met a gentleman in one of the restaurants, who was wearing a Liverpool FC jersey (next season's away kit) and I immediately told him how great it looked as he walked up.

We chatted about my seeing a Liverpool game in the mid-90's that made me a fan forever. Robbie Fowler, 2 goals (a brace), on a rainy Saturday night at Highbury, the home of Arsenal FC.

We buddied up, and a few days later, this gentleman, Matt, walked up to me with a red flag rolled up in his hand.

He told me that the flag had been waved proudly in The Kop, the supporters end of Anfield, Liverpool's famed stadium. I got goosebumps.

He gave me the flag, and I felt as though I had been knighted. We've since stayed in touch, chat on Whats App, and I've been invited to join him at Anfield one day.

You may not be into soccer, and you may not care that Liverpool is gearing up for an important season, but the point to be made, is that a simple greeting can open the door to some really cool experiences.

One mere commonality can not only create connection, but it also validates the idea that looking for the overlap goes a long way.

What if our first thought was about the space where the Venn diagram converges, not the portions where it doesn't? What if we paired that with a smile?

If we're open to it, the lyrics are true... You'll Never Walk Alone.

I'm a cultural spy by Evan La Ruffa

Being part of the cultural majority means that we have the ultimate bias. It means our version of reality is the correct one and that we get to decide what norms everyone else has to aspire to. My ethnic background provides all the advantages of being part of the cultural majority while also giving me relevant perspective on what it's like to not be part of the cultural majority.

My dad is from Argentina and my mom is from Kansas, and they met in Spain. Go figure.

Ethnically, they're both European. My father's family in Argentina all immigrated there from Calabria in Italy. My mom's family came to America from Guernsey, a little island between England and France.

That's why when you look at me, you see a white man. That's what I am.

That said, I grew up speaking English and Spanish, traveling to Argentina often, learning and living by cultural norms my dad grew up with, and generally looking at the world from what felt like two distinct perspectives.

The school I went to growing up was about 65% Latino, and I was 'one of the white kids,' while still enjoying some of the benefits of being part of the cultural majority within that community.

I was in while being out.

I enjoyed the upside and the downside, and it made me keenly aware of what either side felt like, as well as what assumptions we make when we have no reason to see things from the another point of view.

I don't say that to solicit sympathy the way some in the cultural majority do for those few seconds when they don't enjoy that perch. I say it because this experience provided me with a glimpse into the dynamic of cultural majorities from a very early age.

When I went to a white majority high school I enjoyed the benefits of being part of that cultural majority, while also being able to score a few bonus points for being bilingual and having a dad with a cool accent.

It wasn't until after college that I came up with the term 'cultural spy' as an explanation of my experience, but it feels so apropos.

I don't think any of us, regardless of grouping, have any type of monopoly on virtue. I do think that experiencing both sides of the cultural majority coin is a hugely important experience. You don't have to be multiethnic to experience it either. Travel provides the opportunity to not know the local language or be the cultural or racial exception, and it's important that we embrace those experiences as welcomed discomfort.

I've used the term 'cultural spy' a lot over the last few years, so I thought it was about time I write it down.