Under What Circumstances Is This Behavior Acceptable?

Have you ever been really aggravated by someone’s rude or annoying behavior? You know–that idiot tailgating  you on a 25 mph road? Or that selfish jackass smoking right under the sign that says “No Smoking in This Area”? How about the arrogant guy at work—whose name is Dick—who walks right past you in the hallway and ignores your chirpy greetings?

Some days it feels like we’re in the movie “The Sixth Sense”… but instead of seeing dead people, we see obnoxious people. They are everywhere. Or are they? Sometimes, just sometimes, when we see the enemy, we realize it’s our self.

Allow me to explain. I’ve had a few jarring experiences that opened my eyes. I now understand that my perception of a person’s behavior is completely influenced by my own filters.

For example, let’s talk about that selfish jackass who was smoking in the wrong place. Right under the sign! By the way, he was also amusing himself by plucking flowers from the landscaped entryway. Seriously!  This happened at a facility where my friend is the Director of Security and spotted this on a surveillance cam. A guard was dispatched to handle the transgressor.  It turned out the man’s twelve year old daughter lay dying inside the hospital. He had promised her flowers that day but arrived after the gift shop closed. Completely bereft, he went out front to gather flowers and in his grief, failed to notice the “No Smoking” sign. Wow. That’s totally different. Poor guy. Security got the keys to the gift shop and told him to take any flowers he wanted.

Think about that. Nothing changed about that situation except the perception of intentions and motives. Rushing to judgment was easy without having ANY information about his situation.

During a teambuilding exercise at work, the facilitator asked each of us to plot a graph of personal “highs” and “lows” over the past 12 months. We were not required to share the details of those events.  Looking around the room, it hit me that at any given time, at least one of my team members was having a really crappy time in their personal life. In fact, Dick did share about his particularly long stretch of “lows”—he had gone through a bitter divorce involving child custody and financial hardship.  Hmmm… I had no idea! Maybe he was upset and distracted those times he walked by me in the hallway?

I’ve found a little technique that helps to keep my head cooler in these types of situations, where I have no other information about the person. You know, like when the idiot is tailgating me. I ask myself “Under what circumstances would I find this behavior acceptable?” Maybe Ms. Tailgater just got a call that a relative is injured, or her house is on fire. I’d forgive tailgating for that. I wouldn’t be all red-faced, cussing, and flipping the “NJ state bird” over that. So why get myself all worked up when I have absolutely no insight to her behavior? Instead, I just pull over to the shoulder and let her rush past to whatever it is that’s got her foot on the gas pedal.

This approach is saving me stress, and in some cases, preventing huge embarrassment when I find out later that, in fact, there was a “forgivable” reason behind the rude behavior. If I had reacted angrily, then, wow, I would feel really terrible.

I’m not suggesting that you become a doormat. What I’m promoting is this idea that, in the absence of any other facts, assuming the best intentions is just as reasonable as assuming the worst.

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2 responses to “Under What Circumstances Is This Behavior Acceptable?

  1. I agree with you 100%. Often I take a deep breath and tell myself that maybe the person is going through something ….in the long run it makes for good dinner conversation and then the event is forgotten.
    On the other hand, a friend and I were talking just today about the differences in the behaviors of “people”. It seems as if many people are more aggressive, more self-centered, more casual, more apt to lie, more callous, etc. It’s not like we are were two old ladies longing for the old days but it is something that we both noticed.
    Nice post Pam!

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Nancy. Yes, I agree with your observation that our culture has more of an “edge” than it used to. Good food for thought on another blog post. 🙂

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