Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The problem with assumptions...
A senior citizen accosted J during a bus ride last Friday. I know...hard to believe, but it happened.
J is a freshman in college—riding the bus is part of his daily routine. He’s kind-hearted and conscientious...I say this with and without prejudice—he really is a nice kid.
On the day in question, the bus arrived at J’s stop, and he stood up to leave. Almost immediately, he was hit from behind, not once, but twice. Turning to find out who bumped him, he saw an elderly man sitting behind him. Let’s call the man Harvey. Harvey had a hand cart, and it was pushed against J’s leg. Assuming it was an accident, J thought nothing of it.
The next hit wasn’t subtle…a cane handle hit J in the shoulder. Simultaneously, Harvey chewed J out for disrespecting his elders by not letting Harvey off the bus first. J was crushed, he’d had no idea Harvey wanted to stand and leave the bus. Stunned, embarrassed and unwilling to argue with an elder, J left.
My reaction to this story was less than mature and certainly not charitable. What can I say, no matter how old your children are the urge to defend them remains paramount. Once images of brandishing Harvey’s cane and filching his cart left my mind, I thought about the scenario from various angles.
I relate to the frustrations of older generations towards younger, sometimes less respectful, ones. We should be respectful toward others, no matter what our age. However, all of us make unintentional mistakes—no one “gets it right” all of the time…
I think we often have tunnel vision, viewing the world as it relates uniquely to us. Doing so makes it easy to assume negative actions are personal attacks. Guess what? Not everything is about us. We’re just not that important in the grand universal scheme.
Harvey’s point about social etiquette disappeared during his unacceptable behavior. J may or may not have missed signals regarding Harvey’s desire to leave the bus, but Harvey deliberately acted poorly. His actions diminished the very respect he demanded.
Compounding that, other passengers learned nothing helpful. In fact, opinions probably remained status quo: i.e. older people are grumpy and demanding; teenagers are thoughtless and rude.
Now, picture another scenario… Harvey asks J for help with his cart, J graciously carries it off the bus, Harvey thanks J, J says you’re welcome, and for a moment, the world is a little sweeter.
………can it really be that simple?