My Mom does not smoke pot. At her request, I’m making that clear from the beginning of this post. So, with her honor intact, I’m starting this entry with a story she shared with me.
My father is rarely seen without a guitar in his hands. He plays in my parent’s living room, church, bars (church happy hour – they’re a wild bunch), and pretty much everywhere else.
He is also hearing impaired. There’s nothing funny about not being able to hear. However, when the hearing aids are out (which is most of the time), conversations with my dad go something like this:
Me: So, Shrek the Musical is coming to Kansas City.
Mom: Oh, I think the kids would love that.
Me: Maybe we can take them during Christmas break.
Dad: I know the microwave broke. What does that have to do with a rake?
So, it was not a huge surprise when my mom called and told me about their recent trip to the guitar store. My dad was going in to buy an electric guitar, something he’s always wanted to do. While my parents were browsing, the salesman was repairing an instrument. My mom asked him, “Are you self-taught?” My father heard, “Do you sell pot?”
What does my dad do when he thinks my mom is asking a salesman about illicit drug deals? He walks over to pick a color for the new guitar. My Dad’s version of the conversation:
Mom: Do you smoke pot?
(Slight pause. For the record, I’m not entirely sure this pause happened – I just feel better thinking he at least hesitated before walking away.)
Dad: (walking to the other side of the store.) Awesome guitar. Does it come in red?
On their way home, a full half hour later, my dad asked, “Why did you ask that guy if he sells pot!?” My mom immediately called me to let me know that my father had finally lost it.
My father lives in a different world than I do. His world is one where people say things that don’t make sense. He has to guess what the waitress just asked him. (“Would you like ketchup?” “Yes, with extra ice please.”) He doesn’t hear people in stores say “excuse me” when he’s in their paths. He doesn’t hear instructions so he asks repetitive questions. He doesn’t always hear what his grandkids ask him so he ends up saying yes to ice cream for breakfast. He doesn’t always hear the nuances in people’s voices so he misinterprets tone.
In my family, we are so used to his hearing that we almost forget it’s an issue. Out in the world, it’s a different story. Otherwise polite strangers roll their eyes at him because they assume he’s ignoring their excuse me’s. The person behind the counter at a deli visibly shows irritation with him because they think he’s not paying attention. Clerks in stores show frustration when they’re asked to repeat their quiet, fast, and mumbled statements, so they repeat themselves just as mumbled, just as quickly, just as quietly.
People mistake his disability for rudeness and they act accordingly.
The Golden Rule says treat people the way you’d like to be treated. It does not say treat people the way they are treating you. Following The Golden Rule is not always easy – if you think it is you may need to examine how you’re applying it! Sure it’s easy to be nice to people who are nice to you but to truly be a follower of this truth, you need to treat everyone – even people you find rude, dismissive, or oblivious – the way you want to be treated.
Kindness should not be a responsive behavior; it should be your default behavior.
Not only is this important on a deeper, spiritual level but, as my dad would be the first to tell you, we aren’t always spot-on when we interpret people’s behaviors. We don’t know the stories of strangers. The lady who is curt to you in line could be deaf, grieving, worried about medical lab results, overwhelmed by her day, or she could be rude and inconsiderate. The child who is too old for the tantrum he’s having in the store could be a badly behaved, over-indulged child or he could be autistic, reeling from loss, or just having a one-of-a-kind bad day.
Don’t miss an opportunity to be kind to the people who perhaps need our kindness most of all. Never underestimate the power of unsolicited, undeserved consideration.
(When my mom is not busy arranging illicit drug deals, she is an active member of her church, quilt guild, master gardener (literally, she’s in the class), and frequent community volunteer. My open-minded father is a retired Army officer, church vestry member, and also often volunteering. Neither has ever appeared on an episode of Cops.)