Someone else’s bad day

A few days ago I was buying gelato for my girls. The lady who served us seemed a touch impatient and gruff to me, but my 10 year old whispered to me “She’s really nice, and she’s pretty, too.” As the waitress handed me my change, I decided to pass this verdict on.

“Apparently the official assessment is that you’re really nice, and you’re pretty too.” The waitress blushed, and then smiled happily, thanked us and rushed off. I think she was a little embarrassed and startled – it seemed to me as though she was at the tired end of the day, and this compliment came out of the blue. As we walked off I looked back to see that she was grinning to herself as she wiped the benches.

I’ve been trying to teach my girls to see the other side of any situation. My 10 year old, especially, tends to take things extremely personally, and it’s a useful exercise to think about reasons why people say or do things that have nothing to do with us. We have a lot of conversations that run:

Miss 10: “But Mum, she bumped into me and didn’t even say sorry.”

Me: “Well, can you think of any reason she might have been distracted? Could she have been upset about something else?

Miss 10: “Um… well… I think maybe she had a fight with her best friend.”

Me: “So how might she have been feeling?”

Miss 10: “ooohhhh…the poor thing…”

And suddenly it’s not Miss 10’s fight any more. Now she’s feeling empathy rather than angst.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and trying to apply it in my life as well. That driver who cut me off in traffic? Maybe he was rushing to his sick child’s hospital bed. The woman who shouted at me as she drove too close when I was riding my bike? Maybe she had just lost her job. The guy who pushed in front of me in the line? Maybe he has spent all day caring for his aggressive father who has dementia. The kid who didn’t give up her seat on the bus to an elderly lady? Maybe her home life is a nightmare and she is so used to escaping into her own head that she doesn’t see the people around her. The co-worker who is making your life miserable? Maybe her Mum is dying of cancer.

And praise will come to those whose kindness
leaves you without debt
and bends the shape of things to come
that haven’t happened yet.
Faster than Light, Neil Finn

We rarely know what’s going on in the lives of the people around us, especially the ones we encounter briefly at the shops or on the road. I love the expression “live each day as if it’s your last”, but I reckon it could use some work. Maybe it’s more important to “Treat everyone you meet as though they’re having a really bad day.”

What if instead of leaning on the horn and giving that rude driver the finger, we could take a deep breath and think “well, maybe the poor sod is having a really rough day,” or “I’m glad my day hasn’t been so sucky that I’m taking it out on the people around me.” Leaning on the horn and shouting, justified though it might be, could be the trigger that pushes him from “bad day” to  complete meltdown. We all have days where we’re too close to the edge, and not proud of our own behaviour. It’s much easier to judge someone else’s behaviour than to excuse it, but maybe it would make us feel better to think about the back story – what could have made someone behave that way?

What if, instead of reacting to the anger, we passed on all the compliments we think but rarely say? “I love that dress.” “I’m really impressed with the way you handled that situation.” “You look great in that suit,” “You did a really good job today,” or just “That coffee you made me was awesome.”

Maybe we can go from making those bad days worse to spreading a few more smiles. And the great thing about a smile is that it’s contagious.


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