Many years back, Gordon Smith was having a drink after work with Alex Ayuli in the Coach and Horses.
Gordon is my art director partner, Alex was a copywriter at JWT.
The Coach and Horses was JWT’s local.
A lovely old pub just off Berkeley Square and often full of tourists.
So it was a bit crowded.
Everyone was jostling each other for space.
Suddenly Gordon heard a southern USA drawl behind him.
“I didn’t know they let niggers drink in these pubs.”
Now as it happens, Alex is black.
But he’s from East London and Gordon is from South London.
Gordon didn’t take kindly to this.
For Gordon, the only thing worse than a foreigner insulting an Englishman is insulting a Londoner.
Gordon has red hair and a temper to match.
He turned round to see four large Americans in their late twenties, all from the deep south by the sound of it.
Gordon said loudly “Oi, you got a problem?”
The one who’d spoken said “No problem, why?”
Gordon said even louder “You called him a nigger.”
The pub went quiet.
Gordon said “You ain’t from this country are you? Well he is, so he’s got more right in this pub than you.”
Alex is a gentle guy, and by now he’s really embarrassed.
Alex said “No it’s all right Gord, leave it out.”
But now Gord’s in the mood.
He said really loudly “This is his country and his city. It ain’t your country or your city is it?”
The pub was silent.
Gord stuck his face right in the other guy’s “So he’s got more right in this pub than you, ain’t he?”
Alex now wishes the floor would open up and swallow him.
But Gordon won’t let it go.
“So I think you’d better apologise to him, hadn’t you?”
And the other guy apologised, bought Alex a pint, and left the pub.
Gordon calmed down.
Alex tried not to look embarrassed.
And everyone in the pub carried on drinking and chatting.
See, what those blokes had misinterpreted was the ripple theory of identity.
It’s like we are a stone dropped in a pond.
The ripples nearer the centre of the splash are the ones we identify most with.
As the ripples get further away, the levels of identification get weaker.
So for soldiers, for instance, they found the innermost ripple was their platoon. The men they went into combat with.
That was their fundamental identity.
Not country, or religion, or justice, or liberty, or a cause.
Those things were the outer rings.
The innermost ring was their mates.
When you communicate with anyone it’s important to know their identity.
What’s the innermost ring of their ripple effect?
Those southern Americans got it wrong because they assumed it was skin colour.
That was their identity, so they assumed it was that way for everyone.
Whatever nationality you were, if you were white you would identify yourself with them.
But it wasn’t that way for Gordon.
For Gordon it was London.
Gordon didn’t care if you were polka-dot, day-glo or striped like a zebra.
If you were a cockney you were like him.
That was his identity.
We can’t communicate with anyone unless we know who they think they are.
And it may not be who we think it is.