Brain buzz or no brain buzz, I can be a first class fool. And, sadly, I can’t blame it on sizzling my melon when I stroked out.
Last week I was cut off while driving.
“Idiot!” I shouted to myself in the car as I hammered on the horn. “Where do these people learn to drive?”
A day or two later, I cut somebody off. I figured it out when their horn sounded an attack. They went with a long first trumpet then followed with a series of short bursts. It sounded to me like; “Idiot! Where did you learn to drive?”
“Jerk,” I thought. “He must have been speeding. Where’d she come from, anyway? I bet they changed lanes. Where do these people learn to drive?”
It was only later that I pondered my reactions. What did I mean when I thought “these people?” I didn’t see the driver in either case. Man, woman, young, old, race, I had no clue. Did I have an unfortunate stereotype of what a bad driver looks like? My pondering made me uncomfortable, so I shelved it.
But I couldn’t forget what shelf it was in and I had to open it up again when I went out for a walk with my wife a little while later. Patricia is convalescing from a major, painful and scary surgery. Among other things, it’s made it tough for her to walk. And speed, right now, is not an option. But she has to walk as part of the rehab.
Some of this walking has been outdoors, but shopping malls have a nice even track with no worry of rain or wind, so we’ve made use of them. The down side of malls is that they can be very busy. And choppers and staff are often intensely focused, determined and aggressive as they get from their Point A to Point B. I’ve learned they’re not super keen about slowing down to get around slow pokes convalescing from major surgery.
Now, the surgery was such that I can’t have my bride getting checked by aggressive mall types. So, I’ve developed a few blocking techniques. Turns out that those years spent playing football weren’t a waste of time even if there was no room in the pros for a 5’10’ slow corner linebacker and special teams dude. I know how to block and, if necessary, how to tackle. Maybe not to the level needed in the NFL or CFL, but I do fine in a mall.
However, needing to run interference to protect Patricia from contact while in a shopping mall put me in an ugly game day state of mine. And I’d become tense and angry that people were putting her in harm’s way.
“Can’t people see that you’re not ship shape?” I steamed. “Jerks. Where did these people learn to drive, I mean, walk through a mall?”
Then Patricia said something I hadn’t considered. Something that somebody with my history of stroke and being the one time victim of stereotypes should have had top of mind.
“You don’t know what’s going on with them, Tim, just like they don’t seem to know what’s going on with us,” she said. “Maybe their boss just screamed at them, or fired them. Maybe their child or their mom is in the hospital.”
In Patricia’s job she drives a lot from client to client and walks through harried stores. She always has stories about bizarre road mayhem. So if she can throw out a little empathy I suppose I can. And should.
She made me think about a story I heard Stephen Covey tell years ago when I went to an event he spoke at in Edmonton. Covey was a thought provoking speaker and the author of many books including The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
On the day I heard him, Covey told of being on a New York City subway on a weekend morning when a man walked on with a pile of rambunctious kids. To hear Covey tell it, they were running amuck on the train, yelling, knocking in to people while the dad did nothing.
Covey eventfully became too angry and frustrated to stay silent and asked the dad why he didn’t do something about his kids.
The dad, a stunned look on his face, took a peek at his marauding brood and said something like; “Ya, I guess I should. We’ve come from the hospital where there mother just died. I guess I just don’t know what to say or do.”
Covey told us that he immediately made the shift from anger to empathy. A few words changed everything. The circumstance made the facts seem different. Nothing practically had changed. Yet everything had changed.
We can wait for these shifts of points of view to happen and maybe they will or maybe they won’t. If Covey hadn’t said anything, he’d have left the train, angry about the many and disgusted with his children. But, if as my wife suggests, we try to shift our point of view on our own, well, we’ll be in a better place. That’s good for our own minds and souls. And we may even be able to lend a hand to somebody else from time to time.