A few days ago I was playing cards with some people I had only very recently met. I laughed and joked and tried to be friendly. One of them, Dick, an elderly man of about 70, barely acknowledged me, and was actually quite rude. “Crusty old bastard,” I thought. “What could he possibly have against me? He doesn’t even know me. Why doesn’t he LIKE ME?” My first instinct was to lash out, but I didn’t. Instead I began thinking about how I would be rude back. I lost focus on the game, and this thought began to consume me.
A few minutes later, he left the table to get a beer. While he was gone, Earl, one of the other players, told me that Dick had cancer “real bad,” and had only about six months to live. All those negative thoughts that had been swirling around in my head immediately dissipated. Instead, I redoubled my efforts to be friendly and took every opportunity to compliment him on his play. Then he calmed down and was a little friendlier. Only a very little mind you. He still is a crusty old bastard.
But I am so glad I held my tongue in that moment.
In the days since, I have been thinking about that episode. How I almost fell into the trap, and contributed to its escalation. Why it took hearing about his illness to let go of my negative thoughts and change my approach with him. And why is it so freakin’ important that I feel liked by others?
Giving people the benefit of the doubt and showing them love and compassion is always a better option than fighting fire with fire. Easy to do when the love is returned. Far more difficult when it is not.
I suppose we’re wired to see the world through our own lens. I am trying to be more compassionate. It’s hard sometimes. I continue to be a work in progress.
But you just never know why people do what they do, and what they may be going through.