I started reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming this weekend, and was reminded that unless I have walked in someone’s shoes, I really have no way of knowing what they’ve been through. Michelle speaks kindly of her stern and humourless Aunt Robbie who lived on floor below Michelle’s family. If young Michelle and her brother Craig got too wound up, Aunt Robbie let them know:
Aunt Robbie would flick the light switch on our shared stairwell, controlling the lightbulb in our upstairs hallway, off and on, again and again- her polite-ish was of telling us to pipe down.
Michelle’s parents took this in stride, reminding the children that even if they didn’t know the context, they were instructed to remember that context existed.
Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance.
What incredible wisdom, to remember this simple fact. If someone does something rude or thoughtless, I can assume it’s deliberate. Alternatively, I can remind myself that I don’t know what’s been happening in their day, or what kind of life they’ve had. I can tell myself that that seemingly unkind action may simply be out of context.
So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or is rude to you in line, it may help to send a request to the universe that their day will get better. Wish them a bit of happiness in what may be a difficult day.
Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong