“Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” (Ian MacLaren)
When I am unkind, it is probably more in thought than in deed. I exercise unkind thoughts more often than unkind actions. That’s something I certainly want to work on in this year of living kindly (reducing the unkind thoughts, that is, not expanding my repertoire of unkind actions).
For me, unkind thoughts seem to creep in when I am in the most ordinary of circumstances, surrounded by others who—like me—are just trying to get in, get out, and get on to the next thing.
Judge-y Goes to Market
The grocery store we frequent is well-trod. It has narrow aisles and, occasionally, prolonged waits in the checkout line. More than once I have turned the corner on an aisle, to find a woman (I’m sorry, but it is usually a woman) on her cellphone, standing in the middle of the aisle, oblivious to the fact that her cart turned is sideways and blocking not just our access to the dill pickles, but other customers trying to come from the other direction.
“Excuse us,” we say, but she doesn’t hear. So I straighten her cart to clear a path. This she notices and glares at me as she continues her conversation. I get judge-y. How can people be so inconsiderate? But maybe she’s not inconsiderate. Maybe she’s oblivious (a little better…we’ve all been there), or preoccupied by a family emergency (perhaps that’s the reason for needing to make/take a phone call at Fred Meyer’s). Give her the benefit of the doubt.
We’re in line to check out behind a woman with a full cart (again, sorry, it’s usually a woman; guys, your time will come). She watches as the checker scans and bags several bags of groceries. When all has been rung up and the checker pronounces the total, she digs into her purse and produces her coupons. Fine, we use coupons, too, although we try to have them at hand. The checker scans the coupons and announces the new total. It is only then that the woman burrows again into her cavernous handbag for her checkbook and begins writing a check. Bill and I look at each other and roll our eyes. I get judge-y. Really, couldn’t she have been writing that check while her groceries were being rung up, so all she’d need to do is fill in an amount? How inconsiderate.
I need to be better at giving people the benefit of the doubt. So she delayed us by 90 seconds, is that really worth stewing about? Nah. What I want to be able to do is let the annoying behavior go and see something admirable in her. Maybe she made eye-contact with the checker, or said something nice; maybe she is bringing some of those groceries to a friend who can’t get out to the store. Maybe….
Judge-y Takes to the Road
It’s also easy to think unkind thoughts in the car—it’s an auto-response (sorry, I like puns). When I see some yahoo driving at top speed by himself in the carpool lane, or when I follow a Corolla going 25 all the way up the highway entrance and braking before merging onto the uncrowded freeway, I have unkind thoughts. I get judge-y. I don’t curse or call the drivers foul names—okay, only in the most egregious of circumstances. I tend to call offending male drivers “sport,” and females “lady” (with a tone you might recall from old Jerry Lewis movies), as in, “What’s your hurry, sport?” or “C’mon, lady, surely your car has a second gear.”
Compared with the drivers who blast their horns or gesture vulgarly, I’m doing tolerably well, but nothing to brag about. I usually allow other cars to merge, or to change into my lane in front of me. And I always wave and mouth “thank you” when other drivers do the same for me, but all in all, driving is—at best—a pretty neutral experience.
Where do your unkind thoughts crop up? Or am I the only one who has them? I’d love to hear your thought (see comments below).
Suspending judgment is hard, but it’s one of the first big steps in behaving kindly. A story the late Stephen Covey told illustrates how sometimes our judgments can be way off-base, and if we knew what was behind a behavior we might think very differently.
This brings to mind the power of the pause … but that’s a subject for another time… Instead, I’ll close today with the first of many quotes from Wayne Muller’s remarkable and beautiful book, How, Then, Shall We Live?:
“Every day, we are given countless opportunities to offer our gifts to those at work, in our families, our relationships…. If you give less than what you are, you dishonor the gift of your own precious life.”