“We often talk to and treat others the way we talk to and treat ourselves.”
The above statement enters my mind each time I observe irritated customers degrading an employee at our local Wal-Mart. Some deliver on cue, eloquently expressed profanity and rage, demonstrating this is not the first time their opinion has been expressed in public. Others show sophistication comparable only with the sophistication involved in making Rice Krispies Treats.
And yet, some demonstrate that a temper tantrum in Wal-Mart is not just an issue I sometimes have with my three-year-old. Forty-year-olds still have them. And during these times, while other bystanders may feel uncomfortable, I strangely smile as my mind rewinds to 1999 and the origin of that opening statement.
When most people see their alarm clock turn 5 a.m., they are relieved that another hour or more of sleep is available before the day begins. But in 1999, 5 a.m. for me signified that, for the next eight hours, I would receive overdoses of criticism, profanity, tears, shouting, begging and depression. And that was just from the other counselors at the drug rehab center I worked at!
The clients, who were typically court-ordered, delivered the real challenges. (You know, the best part of waking up may be Folgers in your cup, but it sure isn’t a court-ordered drug addict in your office at 5 a.m.) Therefore, if you ever find yourself in a position of working drug rehab at that early, early morning hour, standing behind the person at Wal-Mart serenading the checkout girl with insults or just have difficult relationships in your life, my observations below are for you.
- Observation Number One: Drug addicts, in general, are not morning people. (Nothing more needs to be said about this one.)
- Observation Number Two: If you think it is tough maintaining your composure with that guy at the office or your insensitive neighbor, try meeting a drug addict at 5 a.m. to discuss their “feelings.” (Their options were meeting me or prison, and they usually had to think about it.) I recollect being called names that reached so far into the depths of profanity that I had to look the words up to learn their meanings after the client left. He called me a what??? Oh, that’s what that means! Cool!
- Observation Number Three: Everyone has the right to have a bad day, but the definition of “bad day” is subjective. You believe you are having one because you had a flat tire on your way to work. And then a client shares that their drug habit began as a way to cope with the death of their child from cancer, and today would have been that child’s sixth birthday. Trust me, you forget about your flat tire. Again, the definition of “bad day” is subjective, and it is important to keep your problems in perspective.
- Observation Number Four: When you work in a drug rehab center that opens at 5 a.m., almost every customer is bringing the heat. How do you deal with it? You stop thinking about how the customer is treating you and start focusing on why they are treating you that way. That is where the solution is found. And the best tool you have to extract this information is kindness. Plus, the old saying holds true: “Nothing is personal until you decide to make it personal.”
After a few months at the center, I concluded that the people who did not like me at 5 a.m. usually did not like themselves at 5 a.m. People who did not respect me at 5 a.m. did not respect themselves at 5 a.m. People who were rude to me at 5 a.m. were usually rude to themselves at 5 a.m. But in the end, what I really learned is that the time of day had nothing to do with it.
I realized we often talk to and treat others the way we talk to and treat ourselves. And many times, the best resolution was simply being kind to the unkind, encouraging to the discouraged, and occasionally keeping my opinion to myself instead of firing it off recklessly like bullets from a six-shooter at the O.K. Corral.
As your personal, social, and professional relationships become more complex, it is important to remember that you may not know the silent battles faced by those around you, but God does. He sees the big picture. He sees what is driving someone’s anger, sadness and depression. He knows the root cause of why someone becomes irritated over small things.
So when you feel like a victim and solicit God to comfort you by shooting lightning bolts from the sky at your attacker’s head, imagine God responding: “If you think the way they are treating you is bad, you should see how they treat themselves! But I know about battles they’re fighting that you don’t. And that’s why I sent them across your path today; for you to share your love and compassion, not your criticism and opinion.”
I find it ironic that I made about eight dollars an hour at that job but ended up receiving a million-dollar lesson in learning how to summon courtesy; even when it seemed impossible. And those lessons learned during that time have impacted my present business and relationships more than my college degrees ever have.
I will leave you with an important quote I often relied upon during that particular point in my life—something I hope you will take with you as a tool to help deal with your difficult relationships, 5 a.m. drug addicts and those irate customers at Wal-Mart.
“Your life may be the only Bible some people read.”