A driver who cuts you off on the highway. A cashier who crushes your eggs with an 8 lb. watermelon. The arrogant jerk who acts like he thinks he’s better than everybody else – or is just plain smarter.
When I experience people like this my first instinct is often to think, say, or shout (if I’m in the car) something like, “moron!” OK, I admit, I’m keeping it clean. Sometimes I say far worse – quite emphatically!
But then I remember a very important message I was given:
“There’s always another side to understand. You may not necessarily agree with it. But know that side is there. Try to understand it, instead of judging.”
With such busy lives, not to mention coping with constant exhaustion, it’s sometimes easier to look at something (or someone) on a one-dimensional level.
A couple of years ago I noticed a guy I kind of knew walking around work looking extremely depressed. At first I didn’t look past his depression. But then one day I asked him if he was OK. It turned out he was in the middle of a divorce, and he was being granted very little time with his kids. He wasn’t just “some depressed guy,” he was tormented by the loss of his children.
Maybe the driver who cuts us off is rushing to the hospital. Or maybe they’re “venting” with aggressive driving because of stress over money, work, health issues or a failing relationship. It doesn’t make their driving acceptable, but it makes it comprehensible.
The arrogant jerk who acts like he thinks he’s better than everybody else may really feel totally insecure, inadequate or downright horrible about himself. So he/she compensates with arrogance.
These people might just be idiots – there’s that possibility. But I think it’s unlikely that anybody’s story begins or ends so simply.
This reminds me of a Billy Crystal story.
In 1996, I had just completed my first full-length screenplay. Honestly, it was awful, but at the time I didn’t know this. I was working in Manhattan at the corporate office of a major jeans company (in the customer service department), when I received an interesting phone call from a coworker.
Billy Crystal had just walked into our retail store (which was just downstairs). My heart raced. I opened my desk drawer which contained a pristine, polished copy of my awful script. I had a decision to make…
I took the elevator to the store and ran down the staircase toward street level. About halfway down I saw Billy. The poor guy was shopping with his wife and daughter. Still on the stairs I barked excitedly at him, “Hi Billy. I have this screenplay I’ve written, and I’d really appreciate if you could read it and tell me what you think!”
He looked mortified, but remained polite. He told me that he wasn’t allowed to accept any material unless it first passed through his agent (which is true). I think he even apologized before he walked away.
This guy had class. And at the time, I had none.
So what does this have to do with “two sides to every story?” Before I forced myself on the guy, I didn’t think about Billy’s point of view. He was trying to have a nice afternoon out with his family. He’s probably constantly bombarded (especially in 1996) by people asking for stuff and wanting stuff.
Yes, I had the guts to speak to a super star. But I was also disrespectful, not to mention the fact that I probably put a bad taste in his mouth about ever stepping foot in the store again.
Billy, you probably don’t remember me. You’ve probably let go of the incident long ago. But I would honestly like to apologize. I didn’t take your side into consideration, and I wound up being the rude person. And every time I watch Monsters, Inc. with my boys, I think about the lesson I learned that day.
And remember, you are not alone…
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