Lynn Belcourt, an attorney in New York City who, despite her privileged upbringing, prides herself on being egalitarian in all her affairs, was mildly offended when janitor Jose Gonzalez seemed to misconstrue her friendly, anti-classist small talk as their actually being on the same level.
"Jose is incredibly polite and a hard worker, and I do my best to let him know that I appreciate that," said Belcourt. "But it took me aback that he seemed totally comfortable expressing his views to me, like an equal. I thought was very strange."
In the eight months that Jose has worked at the law firm where Lynn is on a fast track to full partnership, part of how Belcourt has showed him that she sees him as a real person is by asking about his health, his interests, and his family.
"He's got two kids, ages four and seven," said Belcourt. "A boy and a girl. And he's really into running. He used to be a professional athlete back in Venezuela."
Belcourt was disconcerted, however, when she mentioned a movie that had recently blown her away, a critically acclaimed documentary about Syria, and it turned out that Jose had not only seen it, but felt that while the film was intellectually interesting, it missed the mark emotionally.
"He told me he thought it didn't quite capture the human element," said Belcourt. "I mean, who is he? Roger Ebert?"
Still, despite her mild offense at Jose's presumptuousness at acting like an intellectual equal, Belcourt hasn't halted her cordial relations with the maintenance worker.
"Sometimes you've got to be the bigger person," said Belcourt. "That's the only way we'll all get along."