Treat Strangers Like Their Day is Going Worse Than Yours

Essay written by IndecentAccident on Sunday 24, May 2020

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A lesson learned

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If I remember right, I used to be one of those teenagers that think they know exactly how the world works. How people work. I thought I had it all figured out. Most people were arseholes, life was basically meaningless and had no point to it, and society was a bit of a joke. Years of listening to Nirvana and reading The Catcher in the Rye can sometimes have that effect. I sometimes heard that experience was actually the best teacher, that you really don’t have a clue how the world works until you step out into it. Looking back, I realise I definitely needed the lessons that experience would teach me. I always thought that people were just in the way. That their only goal in life, the only reason they were put here was to piss me off, or make me feel bad about myself. I’m a little bit ashamed of the fact that I never thought of people as having real lives too. For the past two and a half years, I’ve worked in the fitness and leisure industry, in hotel leisure clubs mostly. Through this, I think I’ve learned a lot about people. Especially the fact that people have an amazing capacity to turn their lives around. I know this because I’ve seen it and, in one or two cases, I’ve guided them through parts of those changes as a Personal Trainer. But one experience taught me more than all of that, and it served as a lesson that I hope stays with me for a long time to come. Just by the pool in the hotel leisure club I work in, we have a bar. The vast majority of people using it are there on spa days, sipping the drinks they buy from us as they lounge by the pool. As well as the spa day guests though, we have our club members and hotel guests using the same facilities. Quite late on in one particular shift, that had gone by relatively smoothly, a woman who looked to be in her sixties walked up to the bar after escorting her grandson to a swimming lesson. With a sour look on her face, she ordered a cappuccino in a rather abrupt manner, paid hastily and took a seat. Barely a second after I had finished making it, she hurried up to the bar again, asked if it was ready, told me I’d taken ages, and when I presented it to her, she snatched it out of my head with a tut and an eye-roll. 'Typical', I thought, 'a juice bar shift has finally gone smoothly and some bitch comes along and brings my mood crashing down.' For the rest of the day, I’d be thinking about that, playing it over in my mind. Until something happened that I didn’t expect. As it was my turn to supervise the pool, I left the juice bar and started my walk-round. I’d barely started before I heard an ‘excuse me’ coming from the woman I’d just served. ‘I just want to apologise for the way I spoke to you,’ she said. Now, anyone who has worked a customer service job will tell you apologies from customers do not come around very often. ‘Oh no, it’s fine, don’t worry about it,’ I replied, taken aback and wanting to be polite. ‘No it’s not fine, I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I’ve just had a really bad day and was dying to just sit down with a coffee and relax. I just don’t want that to ruin the rest of your day. I really hope I didn’t swear at you or anything,’ she said with a genuine look of exasperation on her face. It was the first time I realised her eyes looked tired. I reassured her she hadn’t sworn at me, and even if she had, it wouldn’t have been anything I hadn’t heard before in this job. So, she went to sit back down and somehow, we were on good terms. It got me thinking, though, that in all the time I spent being angry with her and getting myself worked up about the way she’d spoken to me, I never once considered that she might have just been having a bad day, a much worse day than mine had been. That’s the problem with seeing people as just some inconvenience designed purely to get in your way and make your day worse. That’s the problem with thinking you have people all figured out. No one stops to remember that there are seven billion other lives that are running alongside yours, so it’s a bloody good bet that some of the people you meet throughout the day, or even just pass in the street without looking at, are having a really shit day. I didn’t know what had made the lady’s day bad, I still don’t to this day. We don’t know anything about other people’s lives. Maybe they’ve lost a loved one. Maybe the company they’re working for is about to go under and they’re going to lose their jobs. Now, does this excuse them treating people badly? No, of course not. But I think we should at least stop to consider that they have a life too, and there a million different ways in which it could be worse than yours. Believe me, I know it’s hard when you get caught up in the heat of the moment. This encounter happened to me well over a year ago and I still forget to remind myself sometimes. But even after the fact, I should still stop myself and think they might just be having a bad time of it, and think of how I could respond better next time. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about what’s going on in our own lives. Our life experiences are just as valid as anyone else’s, and that’s why I think we need to communicate that to other people. If we snap at someone, maybe we should take a page out of that lady’s book and explain why we did it, and that it was nothing personal, so we don’t make someone else’s day worse. I really don’t want this to sound preachy or anything. I’m not even sure why I’m writing it. It’s just been on my mind for some reason today and I guess I needed an outlet. Also, I think it’s good to look back at my ‘edgy’ sixteen-year-old self and think, 'you really had no fucking clue.' And I hope I’ll look back in ten years' time at my twenty-six-year-old self and think the same thing again.

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    Preachy or not, I really liked it. Heartfelt and personal. Thanks for the encouragement.
    I believe the expression is "Live and Learn."

    Which is, of course, exactly what you did. Cool