Street signs are always telling us what to do. We have stop signs, give way, slow, reduce speed and so on. We have walk and don’t walk signs and we have traffic lights controlling our movements, but don’t get me started on traffic lights (read more here). My point is, we are pretty used to reading signs and then as a result altering our behavior. An unexpected interchange in a DVD store made me wonder if the sign reading skills we have collectively developed could also be applied to people? I was travelling at the time, feeling relaxed and in particularly good spirits. I had discovered a secret store filled with hard to find cinematic treasures and was very happy with my choices. Generally, I’m a friendly person and when I buy something I’m always respectful. Perhaps it was my relaxed mood, or the lack of any obvious way in which I may have triggered the response, but when the sales guy was suddenly very rude to me, rather than get upset, my inquisitive nature fired up and I started observing. What was making this guy so unhappy? Life had, for whatever reason, put him in the situation where he was at work and he was cranky. I was not the problem. He didn’t know me. I was just the latest in a line of people who had appeared before him who required him to do his job.
So I didn’t react. I just read him. He clearly didn’t like his work. He didn’t like people buying DVDs from him. He was annoyed at every aspect of the process; how long it took to remove the security device, the time it took me to take out my credit card, the speed of the transaction over the telecommunication system, the hard to open paper bag, the frustrating tape dispenser to secure my items and the receipt in the bag. I suspect he was also annoyed there was someone else behind me, ready to make him relive the same process over again. What I was reading was a great big sign-post. It wasn’t telling me what to do, rather it was telling me what not to do.
After his huffing and puffing, eye-rolling and general looks of contempt I began to notice lots of people moving about the world doing things they didn’t like, being people they didn’t want to be. Not seeing the plethora of opportunities before them but remaining stuck in their rigid outlooks of life. It’s easy to be judgmental when someone is rude to you, but actually being rude is a very unpleasant feeling and is a key indicator that someone is, at some level, suffering.
I don’t know what led this guy in the DVD store to be so unhappy. I don’t know his life circumstances. I don’t know how trapped he feels by those circumstance or if he is just trapped by his own mindset.
What his suffering provided was an opportunity to anyone willing to read it. I for one was grateful for the warning. When I looked beyond my own offence at the behavior I was moved to feel compassion. From my perspective here was a person going through something stressful just so I can get the message. Of course the message was there for him to see as well and I hope that at some stage he is able to see what I saw. What I did with that message was to start paying attention to my own behavior, particularly when I was feeling tired and cranky. I noticed just how easy it is to act out, especially around those closest to us. They might be the most forgiving but it doesn’t mean they should have to suffer our bad behavior.
Signs are literally everywhere. Reading people is naturally extremely subjective and if you take some understanding away from anything you witness, it doesn’t change what that person has experienced. They will probably never know the effect they had on you. But looking at others is a great starting point for looking at ourselves.
Evan Shapiro www.amazon.com/author/evanshapiro
This blog is edited and used with permission of the author. Originally posted @ www.evanshapiro.net/blog