Penny For Your Thoughts
by Storyteller Diane Ferlatte
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 3 minutes, 55 seconds.
Getting to know the person in front of you rather than focusing on the label.
In this brief story, African American storyteller Diane Ferlatte, describes a small incident from her daily life. While sitting alone in a restaurant having lunch, Ferlatte notices an older white man also eating alone, who looks sad and worried. When she tries to be friendly, the man responds with a grunt. Ferlatte starts labeling him in her mind as a “mean old white man.” Later, she corrects her own thinking by reminding herself that she doesn’t know anything about the man. Later, as he leaves the restaurant, the man stops at Ferlatte’s table to ask what she had said to him. When Ferlatte tells the man that she had said, “penny for your thoughts” in response to his apparent worry and loneliness, he pours out his story, sharing that his wife of 61 one years has recently died. The two end up having a brief conversation, and Ferlatte realizes the importance of reaching across barriers—of race, culture, generation—in order focus on the person right in front of you. .
- Video of Penny For Your Thoughts (MP4 format)
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- Transcription Text of Penny For Your Thoughts (PDF format)
REFLECTIONS & DISCUSSION QUESTIONS ABOUT
Penny For Your Thoughts
1. What do you think inspires Ferlatte to speak to the old man? How would you have felt if you had been Ferlatte, and the old man had said “What!?!” or grunted at you? What would you have thought about him?
2. Have you ever tried to reach across a barrier (race, age, language, class, etc.) with someone you didn’t know? How did it go? Did you learn from that experience?
3. Ferlatte manages her own initial reaction against the man. How does she do that? Have you ever had to talk to yourself to get yourself to think differently? When? Did it work?
Big changes can come from small actions. Long-standing divisions and prejudices can only be changed person by person. The next time your brain rushes to judge someone who differs from you, ask yourself what you really know about that person and imagine multiple explanations for his or her behavior. If you’re really brave, consider challenging another person when you hear them being judgmental.
STORY TRANSCRIPT of
Penny for Your Thoughts
by Storyteller Diane Ferlatte
Note : The transcript below of the video and audio story is not in correct text book English. It is a transcription of the spoken story. There are also a few variations from the spoken word. This text is for your guidance and reference as you start to study and think about this story.
Hi, I’m Diane Ferlatte. I’m a storyteller. I’m going to tell you a small excerpt from a longer story, but it’s a true story. I was going to a school to tell stories, and in the morning I had two assemblies, I had a quick lunch break, and two assemblies in the afternoon. Well, I finished my two assemblies, rushed to a restaurant nearby and told them that I was in a hurry. “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll seat you right away, Ma’am!” She brought me in, set me at a both, gave me a menu; I made my order and sat there to wait. While I’m waiting, I get a little warm, so I get up, I go to put my coat down on the seat, opposite my booth, and when I do that I looked up. I see an older white man sitting in his booth, facing me and his eyes look blank. Have you ever seen folks like that? He looked very worried and very sad. So I say to him, “Penny for your thoughts!” And he kinda comes out of it and he says, “What did you say to me?” I said, “Penny for your thoughts!” And he said “Unhhhh. . .!”
And when he did that, I sat down with an attitude. All the little prejudices we all have, began to bubble up, and I said to myself, “Mean old white man! Why does he have to be so rude and so grumpy? I’m just trying to be friendly. Mean old white man!” But the more I sat there, I thought, “What are you doing!?! Why did you have to say ‘mean old white man’ or even think that? You don’t even know what’s going on in that man’s mind, why he might be looking so sad or worried. Chill out!” So I did.
I always bring a book to read, looking for another story. His food comes first and then my food comes. So I’m sitting there reading and eating, reading and eating. He finishes first and he gets up to pay, but to go up front to pay, he has to pass my booth. And when he gets to my booth he stops, and I think, “Uh-oh!” And then he leans over and says, “what did you say to me” and I said, “Penny for your thoughts.” He said, “Young lady, if you only knew! My wife died three weeks ago, and I don’t know what to do.” Then I said, “I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what to do. I thought maybe I should say something.”
He said, “Well, you sure got that right. You believe we were married 61years?” I said, “What? You were married 61 years to the same woman?” That made him smile, and then he came really close to my face and he said, “You believe I’m 90 years old?” I said, “What!?! You’re 90 years old? Let me touch you. I wanna live to be that old!” I said, “You are 90 years old, married to the same woman 61years?” I said, “You are blessed, you are blessed! You don’t have to worry about a thing, everything’s gonna be alright.”
That old man tapped me on the left shoulder like this, and he said “Thank you, young lady. Thank you,” and he left. But you know, that old man didn’t have to stop and say anything to me, but he did. I didn’t have to say anything to him, but I did. Two cultures coming together in that one little moment of life. Two generations really, coming together in that one little moment in life, but you know what they say? The most important person in this world is the one you are with right now. That’s a true story from my life. We all got them.
©2011 RaceBridges For Schools. This lesson plan is part of an initiative for educators called RaceBridges For Schools. It is a project that seeks to provide free tools for teachers and students to motivate them to build stronger and more inclusive communities. This guide may be freely used, reproduced and distributed for educational purposes as long as this copyright information is displayed intact. The video and audio excerpts and transcript included in this unit is copyrighted by Diane Ferlatte. Used with permission: www.dianeferlatte.com