(This is an edited transcript of a 2-3min speech I prepared for a public speaking course at Stanford's GSB.)
I raise my arm.
"Who of you knows the movie 'The Big Lebowski'?"
A large showing of hands. I continue:
"I absolutely love this movie. In it, Jeff Bridges is 'the Dude', a Californian hippy. In that movie, everytime Jeff Bridges introduced himself as 'the Dude', I cringed. I really felt uncomfortable. I had no idea why, and it took me two years to find out."
"I had just started snowboarding. One day I had to buy a stomp pad. That's a little spikey plastic mat you put on your snowboard so you don't slip if your back foot is not in the binding. The sales person in the snowboard shop greeted me with the words 'Hey dude, what's up?' I could barely answer 'I need a stomp pad'. A minute later he was back giving me the stomp pad with the words 'Here dude, enjoy!' I paid and quickly left the place."
"So, I had problems with being called 'dude'. Soon I found out that I wasn't alone with my problem. I was listening to NPR when I heard an apparently senior and affluent African American say that he couldn't use the word 'man'. Well, of course, physically, he could say 'man', like I can say 'dude', but in his own opinion, it sounded all phony. He just got weird looks from his peers. His affluent upbringing had made him loose contact with his kin; he lacked the ability to say 'man' in an authentic way."
"Well, the 'd-word' had not been part of my upbringing in Germany. As a kid, maybe you heard it in movies, but you wouldn't really use it. So I thought, ahh, forget it."
"About another year later a kid half my age fixed this."
"I was snowboarding on the slopes of Wachussetts mountain in Massachusetts. After much anxiety I attempted the half-pipe. I entered and got the first turn right. I didn't jump, but I didn't fall either. I just did a decent turn on the wall. I even gathered some speed for the second turn. Half-way through the second turn my board got stuck on the wall. It felt like it was glued to it. I couldn't turn, I fell flat on my nose. Everything was hurting, and I slowly made my way out of the half-pipe. I sat down outside, still shaking all over my body."
"Well, right after me a kid made his way through the half-pipe, decidedly better and more stylish than me. After passing the half-pipe, he rode over to me, slowed down, and while sliding by he threw me a 'Hey dude, wow! Dude!' after which he rode off again."
"Whoa. I was beaming with joy. Suddenly I was a dude, an authentic one, and it felt good."
"I don't have any deep lesson to share from this story, except that in my experience people are more accepting and more good natured than we usually think. Sometimes we are or feel more defensive than necessary. Sometimes it just takes another person's helping hand or word to recognize this."
"So, in case you wondered, I can be a dude, and so can you."