Izabelle dropped her french fry onto her tray and covered her ears to block out the punch line of a dirty joke someone at her table was sharing with the group. She sighed as she retrieved her fry and stabbed it into a pool of ketchup. A woman a few seats away let out a string of profanity and everyone laughed. Izabelle abandoned her fry in its red bath and dumped her tray at the garbage.
The knots in her stomach remained as she left the break room and returned to work. If I only had to endure the language at lunch, I might survive. But I hear it out on the dock while I'm working, too. No one seems to respect the fact that I don't participate. With a shake of her head, she pushed her cart over to where she left off and began counting boxes of laundry soap on the first pallet. She enjoyed a brief fifteen minutes of peace until the unloader returned. The young man climbed onto his forklift and drove it into the trailer. On his first try he managed to poke a box of laundry soap with one of his forks. Cussing, inevitably followed.
Izabelle frowned and tried to block it out. That's it! I'm buying earplugs. She continued counting boxes of detergent and moved on to pallets of diapers, cringing every time a foul word disturbed the air. As she finished up her third pallet of diapers, the new girl Marcy approached her.
"Can you help me?" Marcy asked. "I pushed something I shouldn't have on this darn scanner and now it just beeps at me when I scan a barcode."
Izabelle took the scanner and began pushing buttons. While she messed with it, her unloader came over to tell her the trailer was empty and to give her the last of the paperwork. "I just have to clean up the..." The unloader swallowed and gave Marcy a sidelong glance. "Uh, I have to finish sweeping the spilled soap, so they can bring in another trailer."
"Okay." Izabelle studied the unloader for a minute as he walked away, certain that he'd been about to use an expletive until he looked at Marcy. She pushed a few more buttons on the scanner and then handed it back. "It should work now. Watch out for that yellow button on the left; it likes to mess everything up."
Over the next week, Izabelle observed how the other employees acted when Marcy was present. Everyone seemed to make a conscious effort to clean up their language, and if something did slip, they immediately apologized. Izabelle found that she wanted to be around Marcy as much as possible, so that she could be free of the bad language, too.
"Can you answer a question?" Izabelle asked Marcy one day when they were alone on the dock.
"Sure." Marcy smiled.
"Neither one of us uses profanity or tells off-colored jokes, so why is it that when you're around everyone keeps their language clean, but if it's just me, they talk vulgar and dirty?"
"Well, the first few days everyone spoke pretty much the way you say the do around you, but I told them that I didn't like it and asked if they would please not talk that way. By the end of my first week, everyone's language had improved."
"You asked them?" Izabelle mused. "I didn't even think of that. I figured that as long as I didn't participate they'd realize that I didn't like the way the talked."
Marcy patted Izabelle's arm. "Most often, people take silence to mean acceptance. If we don't voice our opinions, others will assume we share theirs." Marcy glanced at her watch. "It's just about break time; let's go let your opinion be known."