I was on a 3-week trip recently and ended up having to interact with a lady who tended to drive me nuts. She was loud, discourteous, self-centered, interrupted people, acted entitled, and half a dozen other irritating behaviors. After a while, her mere presence, irritated me. I have also been one to judge negatively and grouse about people I am around who always seem to be doing something on their smart phone. I judged them as being discourteous, preoccupied, rude, insensitive and again, a half a dozen other negative adjectives.
What do these two stories have to do with each other? Bear with me.
About half-way through the trip I found out that the irritating lady was actually recovering from a serious, traumatic, closed-head brain injury. The part of her brain that would normally serve as a “filter” had been damaged. Though an adult, without a normally functioning “filter” her interactions with the rest of the world was similar to that of a precocious six-year old with the accompanying lack of social sophistication (the same phenomena occurs with dementia). Blurting things out, interrupting, asking the same question again and again, self-centeredness, rudeness. When I heard what had happened to her, I found myself immediately experiencing her differently. Though her behaviors didn’t change, I saw them through a different lens, the one marked “compassion and empathy”, the same one her devoted husband was using. It was almost as if a magic spell had been cast, I found I wasn’t negatively impacted by her and felt a strange sense of wanting to protect her (ironically, from other people like me).
And, smart phone users? I recently read that research shows that they are being used by many these days to try to meet the basic need that all us humans have to connect with others (identified as one of the top two needs; the other is a sense of belonging). Because our culture does not provide as many opportunities for connecting with others as there were generations ago, this hunger is driving us to find it in whatever ways we can. Today, the argument can be made, it is electronically. And it works, at least a little bit, which encourages us to want more and try to get more. Since it is not very efficient as a “connection” satisfier, we spend more and more time trying to fill that need. If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t exist. Twitter, Facebook, Email, Text, Pinterest, U Tube, etc.
Recently I was at a pretty high class dinner party (one of the guests was the president of the city council of a major US city, another a college professor, another a world renowned poet and so on) and near the end of the dinner, I sat in amazement as gradually, one by one, everyone at the table brought to life their smart phones (except for me, I didn’t have mine with me). I watched their facial expressions and body language. They were connecting with people who were NOT at the dinner. I also noticed that others were “dying” to share something they had connected with on-line or on their phone with people who WERE at the party. Again, the connecting was happening. Looking through that compassionate and empathetic lens of my mind (who doesn’t understand the need and desire to connect with others?) allowed me to see what they were attempting to do as a good thing; at least well intended, rather than my judgmental lens which is capable of conjuring up all kinds of ugly judgments about those people. What in the world is wrong with trying to connect with others?
Both of those experiences remind me that all too often I judge people, without knowing the rest of the story, and there always is more than meets the eye. I am also reminded that if I take the time and energy to learn what that story is, I will be far less irritated, which means I (and they) will have a better day.
There’s a quote by Miller Williams that I like, it reads:
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”