I was talking to a friend this weekend about how we never know the door someone walks through; what their experience has been that led them to react to the situation with us. This I am sure of: the presenting problem was not the problem.
My friend is an owner of a local restaurant. She has worked very hard over the past decade to offer excellent food, good service, a clean restaurant, and a dining experience that would make you choose her restaurant again the next time you are going out to eat dinner. It is also an excellent gathering place to meet others for business. I know, I do it, a lot!
She was a bit disheartened by the way some of the customers acted or reacted when something they ordered is not exactly like they expected. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times everyone leaves satisfied. Why is it we always remember that one out of 100? In this case, I am confident in saying that my friend works very hard to offer excellent service and food. She takes comments very personally, as a reflection of who she is because she is the face of the business. I offered a comment that she is, in all likelihood, the recipient of something that is much deeper than the eggs not being “just perfect.”
A memory flooded my mind when I walked away from my conversation with my friend. I had been to a house where the man who lives there was really ragging on “kids these days.” As he was carrying on, I sat there thinking about the amazing kids I know, both my own children and the students whom I have taught. They are very bright, kind, hard working, high achieving, and seek to improve their lives by higher education.
As I sat there, not wanting to listen, he made a comment about the “smirk” on my face. The smirk was all about how wrong I thought he was. That 1/100 maybe, but certainly the majority of kids are amazing. I knew it was time to go. My experience has told me when these kinds of conversations begin, it is the end of the conversation for me. Wisdom.
I left there and took my daughter to the local grocery story. It was rainy out, so trying to figure out the parking was challenging. I turned down a wide aisle that I thought ran traffic both ways. As soon as I made the turn, I realized that I was going the wrong way and someone was coming down the aisle. I moved over as far as I could and stopped so there would not be a problem getting past me. I saw it was a young man and he was mad, obviously at me because his finger was telling me so. On top of that, he was laying on his horn.
To be honest
In all honesty, I let him have it. Of course, my window was rolled up but my facial reaction was enough to incite him even more. We both went our ways.
Then, I dropped my daughter off at the door of the store. Two people were walking in front of me, I stopped and waved them across. You guessed it, right? It was the two kids from inside the car! Of course, I didn’t realize it until they stopped as they were walking in front of me and continuing to send me the same (finger) message.
I decided in that moment to apologize to him for going down the wrong way. Down my window went, and I told him that sometimes people make mistakes …. I will not bore you with the details. He was not in any mood to listen to me.
Because I tend to overthink situations on occasion, I was really upset by the whole situation. I eventually came to this: I do not know what happened to this young man prior to the incident with me. For all I know, he had a fight with his mother and I reminded him of her, I don’t know. What I am certain of was the fact that I was going down the aisle the wrong way was really not the problem. It was something else.
The same was true of me. He could not have known that I had just had that conversation and he was being that exact kid that was being described in the one-sided conversation. That is why I reacted like I did. This young man had just proved what the older gentleman said to me right.
A lesson learned.
Getting mad at someone, yes I lost control of my emotions, is not worth the energy released. I hope the young man has found his was to peace through our not-so-nice experience. I certainly have learned what I was called to learn: don’t judge too quickly, you cannot know the door the person is walking through. In all likelihood, you are on the receiving end of a situation of which you are not even aware, or had no part in.
I found my peace. I also remember: the presenting problem is not the problem.