Have you ever jumped to a hasty conclusion only to regret your initial assumptions? I once heard a story about a father riding on a subway with his two young sons. The boys were swinging from the rafters, so to speak, and it seemed as if the father was utterly oblivious to their behavior. Obviously, the boys were disrupting the peace of the other passengers, and so finally, one gentleman spoke up.
“Excuse me, Sir. Your boys are being pretty loud and rambunctious. Do you think you could get them to calm down”? The young father looked up with what could only be described as a lost look of desperation and said, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me for not doing a better job of managing my sons. We just left the hospital downtown where their mother died earlier today from cancer, and I’m not really thinking straight.”
The boy’s behavior was still unacceptable; however, when you know all the facts, you have to give them and their recently widowed father a break. The older I become, the more I realize the importance of having the proper perspective. It seems when I make my worst decisions, in hindsight, it’s when I was way off in my view regarding a given situation.
I heard another story two weeks ago at church that made me feel like a jerk and then brought me tears. One of our ministers recently took a bike ride with his young daughter to a 7-11 located close to their home to get a couple of Slurpee’s. As they were waiting to pay, a scene was developing in front of them at the checkout counter.
David and his daughter were standing right behind an obviously disheveled middle-aged woman, so he couldn’t help but hear the exchange between her and the clerk. She had loose change scattered over the counter and was trying to come up with the needed amount to purchase a bag of pork rinds and a 20 oz Dr. Pepper. The clerk was trying to be patient, yet the store line was slowly growing, and the situation was getting increasingly awkward.
As David told this story, my first thought about this woman wasn’t positive. I didn’t throw her entirely under the bus; however, I’m embarrassed to say that my mindset towards her wasn’t the best. Was she someone living on the streets trying to get something for nothing? She wasn’t dressed poorly; however, judging someone solely based on their wardrobe can be difficult. It’s common in the North Dallas area to see panhandlers’ at the major traffic intersections asking for money. They’re typically not dressed well; however, you will occasionally see someone looking somewhat out of place because they are relatively well dressed, yet they’re still asking for money.
Fortunately, David didn’t think like me. Obviously, the woman was having difficulty paying, and that’s when he stepped forward and politely asked, “Ma’am, would you be willing to let me and my daughter include your things with ours?” With David’s question, the whole place went silent. You could have heard a pin drop.
Then after what seemed like forever, the woman replied in tears, “Thank you so much for your kind gesture and my apologies for not having my act more together. I just left the hospital where my husband is dying from cancer. His two favorite things are pork rinds and Dr. Pepper, and I’m just trying to make him happy in his final days.” After her reply, the rest of the patrons in the store stood in silence, with several having tears welling up in their eyes.
David asked the woman if he could pray for her and her husband. Her answer was, of course, yes, and David proceeded with a short and audible prayer. No one said a word as if the whole store was now pulling for this woman and her family. At this point in David’s story, I had tears running down my face. How could I go from thinking poorly of her to crying about her struggle with her husband’s failing health?
The answer is attaining all the needed facts and achieving the proper perspective. It seems a common fault of human nature to assume the negative about someone in a given situation. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been guilty of this countless times in my life; however, with the second story above now burned in my mind and heart, I have pledged to do better.
There’s something to be said for giving others the benefit of the doubt until they give you a valid reason to think otherwise. The Golden Rule teaches us to treat others the way we would like to be treated. It’s simple to say and much more challenging to live; however, I think it’s a high standard worthy of our best efforts.
Closing thoughts for my readers:
The plight of the lady at the 7-11 clearly had an impact on me. While I had heard the story about the man on the subway and his two sons years ago, David’s encounter inspired this post. And after writing the bulk of this the first night, I was eager to share it with one of my most favored clients the following day at work.
Tay is one of my seniors, and I’ve been working with him and his wife for almost two years. He is a giant of a man at 6’5″; however, he has a heart of gold and is nothing more than a big old teddy bear. Halfway through his session, I brought up the subject of this new post and shared the first story above. While extremely sad, it did not trigger a physical response on my part.
As I transitioned to the second story, I acknowledged that I might not get through it without getting a little emotional. It was more difficult than I expected because the tears flowed, my voice noticeably cracked, and it took several pauses to regain my composure long enough to finish. I’ve always worn my feelings on my sleeve; however, I’m not sure what it is about this poor lady and her dying husband that hits me so hard. However, based on my actions with Tay, it clearly does.
In my four years of working as a fitness professional, I’ve lost two clients to cancer, and I’ve had numerous clients and two of my best friends lose parents or close family members for various health reasons as recently as last week. In all my years in sales, I never forged the relationships I have as a coach, highlighting two essential lessons for me.
The first is that life is short, and we should make the most of it every day. Plan your days and protect your health like you’re going to live forever, and then live each day like it’s your last. It kills me when people blow off the value of a given day. The late great Zig Ziglar used to say, “Every day is a good day, and if you don’t believe me, just try missing one of them.”
If you have a family member or friend where the relationship is strained or not the best, I encourage you to do whatever you need to do to make it right. As the great philosopher Apollo Creed said in Rocky III, “There is no tomorrow!” These are wise words to live by because none of us is guaranteed the next five minutes, much less tomorrow.
The second is that everyone is deserving of your mercy and grace. You don’t know someone’s story unless you know it. Regardless of someone’s level of success, everyone is struggling with some part of their life, and I believe everyone needs an encouraging word.
Last week at my gym, I passed a young lady heading to the women’s dressing room in the hallway around 5:45 AM. I had noticed her a few times on the fitness floor and was pretty sure she was a new member. As I started to say hello, she yawned big time. So instead of saying hello, I smiled and asked if she had a late night. She smiled and said she was still getting used to early morning workouts.
I asked if she was a new member, and she replied yes and that her name was Kimberly. She further shared that she is a single mom and the early mornings are the best time for her to train. I encouraged her to hang in with her new training schedule and that she would get used to it soon enough.
In parting, I told Kimberly how proud I was of her efforts to care for herself. She thanked me, and we went our separate ways. Now, I don’t know the first thing about this woman other than this, being a single mom is the most demanding job on the planet. Further, the gym environment can be terrifying to newbies, and you can 10X that terror if the newbie is a young, plus-sized woman.
Fast-forward to the next week, I saw Kimberly on the exercise floor. She was walking on a treadmill, so I stopped to say hello en route to the free weight area. She smiled as I approached, and after exchanging good mornings, I asked how her training was progressing. She said it was getting better, which was great to hear. Then to my surprise, she thanked me for noticing her the week before. She also thanked me for encouraging her and saying I was proud of her.
Wow! As I’ve shared with many other members and clients, I encouraged her to “persist” in her efforts, and good things will happen. Then as I was walking away, feeling very humbled, I reflected back to the week before when we first met. It started with a simple “yawn,” which was my “in” for saying hello. I still know very little about Kimberly; however, I promise you it is my mission to learn more because she clearly needs the support.
Best of luck in your journey.