St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote that we “ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it.” It seems like an obvious idea to me: You give someone benefit of the doubt until there is no doubt left.
But it seems to be a hard skill to put into practice.
On a group Facebook page, I’m always reading someone’s complaints about a rude employee at various stores and restaurants. (Fast food places are a particular target.) Now no one wants to be treated rudely, )although the fact that someone is upset enough to post on Facebook might be a good topic for the future). But what if we applied Ignatius’s advice?
- This person seems rude. But maybe it’s her first day, and she’s simply overwhelmed.
- This person seems rude. But what if the guy before me was a real jerk and upset her? And now she’s about two seconds from crying?
- This person seems rude. But what if he just got a phone call from his kid’s school and he’s now got to make arrangements for child care?
- This person seems rude. But maybe she’s just heard the 500th Christmas carol over the restaurant’s loudspeaker and she can’t take any more.
You get the picture. Who knows which interpretation is the right one? But why do we jump so quickly that the person before us is rude, obnoxious, and needs to be put in his/her place?
I’ve tried to take Ignatius’s advice for years now. And some people will say that I don’t stand up for myself and get disrespected. But this is my response: I get to treat such interactions lightly. When my order comes, I’m thinking about my food and not how I was treated. So I enjoy my food. And then I move on. Which frees up my mind and heart for the rest of the day. And I have no need to vent on Facebook and get other people riled up.
And that, as the commercials say, is priceless.
Here, in no particular order, are the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving week:
- a short work week
- a chance to see my family
- colleagues who both inspire and challenge me
- a boss with humor, kindness, and vision
- Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet for a weekly reminder that people will go out of their way to help others (and cute kittens).
- all the books on my to-read list
- the fact that Jane Austen existed and wrote books (and that people made good movies out of her stories)
- that someone came up with the idea of mixing raspberries with chocolate
- the daily chance to help students achieve their goals
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
On October 28, one of our college’s beloved colleagues and one of my best friends passed away. Although Pam had retired several years ago, many faculty and staff had fond memories to share with each other. Stories of her generosity, kindness, and humor abounded.
One of my earliest memories of Pam is from my third year at the college. I was going on a trip to England to visit my grandmother. I had saved up a hundred dollars in coins, wrapped them, and planned to take them to the credit union to swap them out for travelers’ checks after work. Unfortunately, someone came in my office while I was in class and stole them. A few hours later, Pam appeared at my door with a personal check: “I can’t let some horrible person ruin your trip.” No amount of protest would dissuade her. She had made it her personal mission to right that particular wrong.
Of course, in a thirty-year friendship, things did not always run smooth. She was constantly running late, and I would sit smoldering in a restaurant because “something had popped up at the last minute.” Or she would cancel some activity because work had piled up.
In an episode of “Everyone Loves Raymond,” the title character gives a speech at his brother’s wedding reception after his mother ruined the wedding. He talks about the ability to edit out the bad stuff. And that is a skill worth cultivating. For there will always be bad stuff as long we keep hanging out with other humans.
Yes, her running late was part of who she was. But only one part. The laughter far outweighed the annoyances:
- After dinner before a concert, we’d both gone to the bathroom. When I came out of my stall, I was stunned to see her head, with its perfectly coiffed hair and flawless makeup, sticking out of the bottom of her stall. Always prone to claustrophobia, she had not been able to get the door open and was trying to escape. After I helped her out, she made me promise not to tell anyone. I did. When I got to work the next Monday, I found she had already told everyone.
- In her car, she told me about this new band she loved and was playing their new CD for me. After about thirty minutes of talking with the music in the background, I realized something:
“Pam, all these songs sound very much alike.”
“Oh, it’s the same song. I have it on repeat.”
“How are the other songs?”
“I haven’t listened to them yet.”
Pam was a wonderful colleague. She was a great friend. I miss her terribly.