The other day I met a friend, Jim, for coffee. When he stepped away to take a phone call, I played with my own phone for a few minutes, reading a couple of emails and checking the all-important Facebook status feeds.
I wasn’t eavesdropping, but the tables at Starbucks are not really meant for privacy as much as they are for holding up coffee cups. So really, I wasn’t straining my ears when I heard a man at the table next to me say to his colleague:
I can’t go to my son’s graduation in Michigan later this month. I asked my parole officer, but she said I can’t leave the state…
Um, okay. I was a family therapist. Many of my clients had parole officers. Heck, most of them had spent time behind bars. But I was sitting in Naperville, IL. Naperville is known for its historic downtown, its paving-stoned Riverwalk, its school excellence. Oh, and now we have some sort of bar called Show-Me’s…and I don’t think it’s named that for its Missouri cuisine.
Anyway, I guess I was a little surprised that a decent-looking man of about my age had a parole officer and couldn’t leave the state.
That got me thinking about the rest of the people in the coffee shop. I figured that most of them had things on their minds or, more to the point, on their hearts. Then I got even more honest: I had lots on my heart, too.
So maybe the distracted woman behind the counter who messed up my simple order wasn’t being obtuse; perhaps she had a heavy heart because of a sick child at home…
Maybe the women sitting alone at a tablet that seats four while others were standing around her wasn’t being insensitive; it could be that she was lost in thought because her spouse just lost his job…
Possibly the man who cut me off a block before getting to the coffee shop didn’t need to return to driver’s education class. He could have been distressed that his mother or father had just been admitted into the hospital…
The man who wasn’t paying attention at the stop light the day before, and I had to blast my horn a few times before he moved. Maybe his wife just served him divorce papers.
I certainly wouldn’t want others to judge me after a chance encounter with me on my worst day.
I wouldn’t want to be judged for the words that have come out of my mouth when I’ve been the most angry.
I wouldn’t want someone to assume that the quality of my work is always sub par because he or she saw me perform when I had the flu.
I wouldn’t want another to think that I’m emotionally fragile because the only time they saw me was when I closed my office door and wept like a baby the day my dog died.
I wouldn’t want another person to think I’m a complete airhead because one time I parked my car in a very large lot…and it took me an hour to find it.
Empathy implores us to extend more grace and offer fewer judgments.
In Golden Rule terms, treat others the way you’d want them to treat you.
So when you see a “ditz” or an “idiot” today, can you cut him or her some slack? First of all, that person may be at an all-time low. So go easy. Second, that person might be me. So go very easy….