I was sitting with my mother in the hospital lobby a few years back waiting until we could see my father in the intensive care unit. Mom and I were talking and smiling. Perhaps for the first time in days we felt that everything was going to be okay with Dad.
Across the lobby was a young woman with two small children about two and four years old. As we talked, I noticed the littlest child have a bit of a temper tantrum, fussing and tugging to get away from his mother's grip.
The mother was holding onto the child's sleeve and trying to balance a plate of cookies in her other hand.
I must have looked away because all of a sudden the woman was standing in front of us. She leaned forward and said in a most hostile voice, "Are you having a good time?"
Caught off guard, I automatically turned my head around, thinking the woman must be yelling at someone behind us. But there was no one there. The woman stormed past with her children and disappeared down the hall.
My mom was clearly shaken. In that moment she looked like a little girl who had just been severely reprimanded. I didn't feel so great either. It's no fun having someone yell at you. I put my arm around my mother and patted her on the back and told her I loved her.
What I concluded was that the woman must have decided that we were enjoying her predicament. She had presumed to make herself the center of our attention. Yet at no time had my mother or I even commented about the woman and her children. If anything, the two of us were her allies, because we, too, have struggled with young children.
The sad thing was that because this woman had assumed that we were laughing at her, she made herself a victim, and in turn victimized us.
Although most people could probably say they would never behave in such a mean-spirited way, most of us make false assumptions rather routinely. Often these assumptions are based on seeing oneself as the center of the world.
For example: the boss calls a co-worker into his office, and you wonder if they're talking about you. Your husband turns on the radio when the two of you get into the car, and you think he's trying to avoid talking to you. You have a great date with a new man. He doesn't contact you for a few days, and you decide he doesn't like you. Your boss sounds irritated, and you think he's mad at you.
When you're not sure what's really going on and you make an assumption, think beyond yourself. Make yet one more assumption.
Examples: Perhaps my boss is mad because he didn't like what I had to say at the meeting. Or, perhaps my boss is mad because he just lost a big account.
Perhaps my husband turns on the car radio to avoid talking. Or perhaps he turns on the car radio because he likes music.
Perhaps those women across the lobby think I'm not a good mother. Or perhaps those women are happy because their relative is starting to fuss about hospital food and soon will go home.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: http://www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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