Melanie, our office administrator/client care manager is fond of the line: “Everybody’s got stuff”. She uses it to remind us to have compassion with folks that rub us the wrong way, like suppliers who are late, or someone who has cut us off in traffic.
Recently, a company that owns computer system we use, stopped returning our phone calls and emails as promptly as they had. They are generally good to work with. But now, as we were prepping for some shifts, and needed some answers to reasonable questions in a timely way…we were getting frustrated. Their answers came, but were incomplete, and we had to ask again.
We pay good money to these people…and we deserve better service–we told ourselves.
Then, I finally reached someone and spoke to her…and found out that the gentleman they contract some of their hosting services to, had just received a terminal diagnosis of cancer. They rely on him, and he’s terminal.
He’s dying. He’s self-employed. He needs the money, and he can’t do the job.
They liked him, and they not only had a business situation that they needed to take care of, they were struggling personally with a friend who was dying. And they needed to switch over hosts. And there was no right way to do what was right for business, and what was right for their friend. So they didn’t have all the answers–yet–because of the fluctuating situation.
PAINFUL and AWKWARD
And all of a sudden, we could have genuine compassion for them–and our understanding of their situation had us change our mood–a lot.
We still needed the answers…but we felt completely different about delayed responses, and we started asking our questions differently…gently.
Everybody’s got stuff.
Melanie reminds us that even when we don’t know the back story, there generally is one, and compassion can be our first response.
Melanie is generally an extremely compassionate and understanding woman. She uses a story that she heard when she was a nanny many years ago, to remind herself of remaining so, even when someone is edgy or huffy. The mom of the children she cared for, would tell the story of the elm bark beetle. She would say that everyone was so mad at the elm bark beetle for Dutch Elm Disease and all the trees they were killing, but they didn’t understand.
The elm bark beetle was simply doing what elm bark beetles need to do…climb trees to be able to eat and grow. They didn’t ask for the fungus that causes the disease to be stuck on them. Humans brought it over from Asia. They couldn’t help that the disease causing fungus was on them, and they didn’t set out to be malicious to the tree. And the children learned understanding and compassion towards the beetles, even as they worked to save the elm trees in their yard.
It is a helpful perspective–it helps a person be calmer and more relaxed–when you understand that the person who is ticking you off has a back story that you may not be aware of, but you can safely assume is there.
- His distraction which leads to bumping into you, may have to do with an ill child or needing a job which means that the eviction won’t occur
- Her grumpiness may stem to the names she was called by her partner that morning, or the fact that her “to do” list is impossibly long and the consequences are high
- His irritation with you may arise from any number of unknown and hidden reasons…because, after all, he must never be seen as weak or struggling…so you will never know how worried he is that his wife won’t let him hug her, or that his teenager rolled her eyes at him disdainfully this morning and he wonders what he’s doing wrong
You get the idea.
We’ve all got stuff