Cut some slack
Recently, on a flight home from Illinois, I sat next to a man who was an executive in a corporation. The man was pleasant, chatted with passengers who were finding their seats, and seemed genuinely interested in every person boarding the airplane. There were a couple of people who were unresponsive to his smile and greetings but he didn’t seem disturbed by that one bit.
On the flight, he shared that, on a previous flight, he began speaking to a couple sitting in the seats behind him and asked the man if he was going to Texas for business or pleasure. “He responded,” my new friend said, “in a way that made it clear that he felt it was none of my business.”
“How did you take that?” I asked.
“Well, he looked as if he were bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders so I decided that I would choose not to be offended.”
He continued, “When the man went to the restroom, his wife apologized for her husband’s behavior and told me the reason for his rudeness and short answer. It turned out that the man’s sister had been murdered years before and he was traveling to Texas to witness the execution of her killer. No wonder he didn’t feel like talking.”
My companion could have taken offense and responded to the rudeness in kind, creating a tense situation on the flight, but he didn’t. He assumed the best about the man and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Many, in a similar situation, would not have done so.
I have discovered that a great many people are quietly carrying their own private burdens. Many of those we encounter are dealing with stressful, difficult, sometimes desperate, situations. One man may be seeing the demise of his business and worrying what will happen to his employees and to his ability to care for his family.
Another person may be living with an unexpected diagnosis of a serious disease. A person in his or her 50s or 60s may have a bevy of worries: about the parent suffering from dementia, about the retirement account that has taken a terrible hit or a pension plan that may soon disappear, or about the impending divorce of a son or daughter.
Others live daily with the reality of caring and providing for a child who is handicapped, or a spouse that is mentally ill, or a grandchild slipping into the abyss of addiction. Certainly, there are scores of people we encounter each day who are terrified at the prospect of losing their jobs or their homes.
Awaiting a flight several months earlier, I met and spoke with a middle-aged woman in the terminal who had lost her job and her home. With her remaining money, she had purchased a one-way ticket back to her hometown and was hoping that, somehow, things would get better. She was fearful, sad, and depressed.
Once on board, lost in her thoughts, she mistakenly sat in the wrong seat. The woman who had been assigned the seat she occupied, rather than gently saying that she was in the wrong seat, exploded in rage. She yelled at the hapless woman and shouted, “I want the seat I paid for!”
Already beaten down by life, the embarrassed and humiliated lady meekly left the seat and tearfully located her assigned seat. Why, I wondered, do people act rudely and behave like barbarians when there is no need to do so?
Yet, such behavior increasingly seems to be the norm. Why not, instead, give people the benefit of the doubt, assume the best about them, treat them with respect, and cut them some slack? It seems to me to be the kind — and the civilized — thing to do.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and may be contacted at email@example.com.]