The other day my family and I took a quick trip up to Minneapolis to see my wife’s family (Six hours one way isn’t really quick but we left Thursday afternoon and got back Saturday evening., it also rained on us pretty heavily on Thursday which slowed us down.) As you make that trip, up Nebraska 75 (in our case), over to Interstate 80 to Des Moines, then up Interstate 35 to Minneapolis there is a lot of merging, plenty of traffic, and, often, more than a little frustration at other drivers.
I was just cruising along and realized at one point that I need to be about three lanes over from where I was in order to stay on course. I, quickly and safely, (my wife might disagree) crossed the lanes of traffic and I may, MAY, have cut someone off in the process. I had a legitimate reason, I had been boxed in for a couple of miles, I kept waiting for things to clear, or one of the cars to move on, but it didn’t happen so I had to take a little more aggressive action than I would of normally, especially with my kids sleeping in the car. There was a good reason that I had to do what I had to do. This got me to thinking.
I wonder what the folks in the other cars were thinking. I wonder if they saw my Nebraska license plate and made some judgment about my education or intelligence or maybe even my upbringing? I’m pretty sure if I ever see someone cut across three lanes of traffic I would have some not nice words and thoughts about their education, intelligence, and upbringing. I know if I see someone turning right really slowly, I assume they are from Virginia or if someone is riding slowly in the left lane, they are from Ohio. I don’t always give people the benefit of the doubt, I almost always think they are doing something to personally annoy me, or that they are too stupid to know how to operate a vehicle. I never assume they had been boxed in for a couple of miles, they kept waiting for things to clear, or one of the cars to move on, but it didn’t happen so they had to take a little more aggressive action than they would of normally, especially with their kids sleeping in the car.
I think sometimes, we assume the worst in people. We assume the driver doesn’t know what they are doing, we assume the cashier is intentionally inept, we assume the official has it out for our team, we assume that people are out to get us, disrupt us, destroy us, and generally mess up our lives.
I saw a quote a while back by Scottish author and theologian, Ian Maclaren, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” In searching for that quote I found this from life coach, Lorna Gager (DISCLAIMER: there’s a little language):
“I wish we could and would keep this in mind, all of the time.
It applies to every person you have contact with:
The ones who put up a good front.
The ones who tell it like it is.
The ones who seem to have it all.
The ones who are grumpy.
The ones who are sweet.
The ones who cut you off in traffic.
The ones who always say hello.
The ones who are rude.
The ones who always have a kind word.
The ones who don’t smile back when you pass them.
The ones who are cheap.
The ones who are generous.
The ones who are bitchy.
The ones who are funny.
The ones who are loud.
The ones who are quiet.
The ones who are bastards.
The ones who are happy.
The ones that are sad.
The ones that are angry.
The ones who are always out.
The ones who always stay home.
The ones who have known success.
The ones who have known failure.”
In this world that is anything but kind, we must go out of our way to be kind, in the midst of frustration, annoyance, disturbance, and foolishness.
So for me, the next time I see someone cut across three lanes of traffic, I’m going to assume they had been boxed in for a couple of miles, they kept waiting for things to clear, or one of the cars to move on, but it didn’t happen so they had to take a little more aggressive action than they would of normally, especially with their kids sleeping in the car. That might not be the place where I end, but it’s the place I want to start.
So next time, that official makes a call you don’t agree with, the cashier messes up your order, your boss gives you last minute work, someone takes “your” parking space at Wal-Mart, or when ever you want you have not so nice words or thoughts about someone’s education, intelligence, or upbringing, stop, take a deep breath, and remember that they may be fighting a battle you have no idea about, and you would want them to give you the same benefit of the doubt. It might not be where you finish, but it’s a good place to start.
It all comes back to the golden rule; treat people the way you would like to be treated.
At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite” I hope to share with you some of my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.
Favorite: The Premier League in England started last weekend and school starts this week.
Not Favorite: Buying school supplies.
(image: Kate Ter Haar)