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Archive for May, 2013

I was sitting with my mother in the hospital lobby the other day waiting until we could see my father in the intensive care unit. Mom and I were talking and smiling. Perhaps for the first time in days we felt that everything was going to be okay with Dad.

Across the lobby was a young woman with two small children about two and four years old. As we talked, I noticed the littlest child have a bit of a temper tantrum, fussing and tugging to get away from his mother’s grip.

The mother was holding onto the child’s sleeve and trying to balance a plate of cookies in her other hand.

I must have looked away when all of a sudden the woman was standing in front of us. She leaned forward and said in a most hostile voice, “Are you having a good time?”

Caught off guard, I automatically turned my head around, thinking the woman must be yelling at someone behind us. But there was no one there. The woman stormed past with her children and disappeared down the hall.

My mom was clearly shaken. In that moment she looked like a little girl who had just been severely reprimanded. I didn’t feel so great either. It’s no fun having someone yell at you. I put my arm around my mother and patted her on the back and told her I loved her.

What I concluded was that the woman must have decided that we were enjoying her predicament. She had presumed to make herself the center of our attention. Yet at no time had my mother or I even commented about the woman and her children.  If anything, the two of us were her allies, because we, too, have struggled with young children.

The sad thing was that because this woman had assumed that we were laughing at her, she made herself a victim, and in turn victimized us.

Although most people could probably say they would never behave in such a mean-spirited way, most of us make false assumptions rather routinely. Often these assumptions are based on seeing oneself as the center of the world.

For example: the boss calls a co-worker into his office, and you wonder if they’re talking about you. Your husband turns on the radio when the two of you get into the car, and you think he’s trying to avoid talking to you. You have a great date with a new man. He doesn’t contact you for a few days, and you decide he doesn’t like you. Your boss sounds irritated, and you think he’s mad at you.

When you’re not sure what’s really going on and you make an assumption, think beyond yourself. Make yet one more assumption.

Examples: Perhaps my boss is mad because he didn’t like what I had to say at the meeting. Or, perhaps my boss is mad because he just lost a big account.

Perhaps my husband turns on the car radio to avoid talking. Or perhaps he turns on the car radio because he likes music.

Perhaps those women across the lobby think I’m not a good mother. Or perhaps those women are happy because their relative is starting to fuss about hospital food and soon will go home.

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I went to the parking lot to get my car the other day, and stuck under the windshield wiper was a paper napkin with a sarcastic note scrawled across it. The writer wanted to know whether I thought I was so much better than the other plebeians who worked at the building that I could park in the aisle.

In truth, I had parked in the aisle. In my defense, however, I blocked no one because the aisle is three car widths wide, there were no other spaces available, and I pay a monthly fee for parking.

At the same time, I felt a bit intimidated by the message on the napkin. I think I felt guilty because the note harked back to what I was taught as a child – that it was wrong to be pretentious or to think I was better than anyone else in any way.

Another factor may also come into play when a person is accused of some wrongdoing. Regardless of whether the person is guilty, he or she usually feels uncomfortable. This is probably because as children we were expected to be good and to do things right. And when we didn’t do something right, we lost our parents’ approval for a time, which translates into a loss of love. As adults, when reprimanded, we too feel that vague sense of loss of love.

Because everyone is sensitive to criticism and most everyone gets criticized from time to time, here are 3 questions to ask yourself.

  1. Is this criticism valid?
  2. Is it partially valid?
  3. What might I have done differently to have avoided the criticism?

By asking these questions of yourself, you put in perspective the criticism.

You might also want to keep in mind the following story which was written in the third century B.C. and recounted by Will Durant in The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage.

When a simpleton abused him, Buddha listened in silence; but when the man had finished, Buddha asked him: “‘Son, if a man declined to accept a present made to him, to whom would it belong?’ The man answered: ‘To him who offered it.’

‘My son,’ said Buddha, ‘I decline to accept your abuse and request you keep it for yourself.'”

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As Mike was coming home one night, he found a puppy in the street. Who can resist a tiny, helpless, homeless puppy?

When Mike’s parents saw the dog, they reluctantly said yes he could keep the dog. But the dog was his responsibility. Mike would have to feed and water the dog, take him to the vet, and pay his vet bills. And the dog was to reside outside primarily.

Mike is 23 years old, so the requirements to keep the puppy didn’t seem harsh or extreme.

Mike’s mother agreed to buy an insulated doghouse. She also bought the dog a plastic swimming pool because “he seemed to love the water.”

Mike “sort of” kept his agreement with his parents. Sometimes the puppy was left with no water. Sometimes Mike took off with his friends for the weekend, so it befell his parents to take care of the puppy.

Now, as in many families, everyone in Mike’s family works outside the home or goes to school all day. So no one is home during the day. And dogs become bored. One boring day the dog ate all the shrubs.

A friend gave Mike’s mom some beautiful Japanese iris, each marked by color. When she planted the iris, she was careful to place them according to the color scheme in her garden. The next evening the dog removed each plant from its hole.

Mike’s mother planted the iris again, giving up on the color scheme. The following morning they were out of their holes again and strewn across the yard.

Then came THE weekend. Everyone was going out of town. Mike, Mike’s father, and his sister had already left town.

Two hours before Mike’s mother was to catch a plane, she walked past the kitchen door and saw the dog. ‘Who’s taking care of the dog?’ she thought. Of course she already knew the answer. She got the dog in the car and took him to her mother’s house for the weekend.

The following Monday, Mike’s mother informed him that because he was not taking care of the dog, the dog had to leave. She gave Mike six months to find a home for the dog. After that, he would have to go to the dog pound. Mike agreed.

Five months passed. The dog continued to miss meals and eat shrubs. The mother kept issuing warnings: “The dog goes in four weeks… The dog goes in two weeks… Please find a home for the dog… The dog goes in one week… Please, please find a home.”

Eventually Mike was forced to take the dog to the pound.

For the rest of that week everyone was angry at the mother. Her husband and children gave her dirty looks. They avoided talking to her. She was an outcast in her own family.

Being responsible has more down sides than most of us care to look at.

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Here are some all too frequently used ways to persecute someone:

Blame someone else when you go off your diet.

Smoke in the home of someone who doesn’t smoke.

Be late for an early-morning breakfast date.

Don’t send an RSVP when the invitation clearly calls for it.

Let everyone else in the company know you’re going to fire someone before telling the person himself.

As you’re leaving a meeting on Friday, tell a subordinate in an ominous tone you need to talk with him Monday.

Allow a sales clerk to ring up your purchase first, even though you know someone else was ahead of you.

Always wait until the second notice before paying a bill.

Say you’ll mail a friend’s letter and then let it sit in your car for a week.

Refuse to let another driver pull into your lane.

Make your carpool sit for 10 minutes while you finish getting dressed.

Be a half-hour late for a dinner party and don’t call. And when you get there, don’t apologize.

Stay in bed until the last minute and then scream at the children to hurry up and get ready for school.

Don’t make your child-support payments on time.

Cancel a dental appointment five minutes before you are to be in the dentist’s office.

Make a lot of noise in the morning, even though everyone else is sleeping.

Don’t tip the waitress because the food doesn’t taste good.

Tell a job applicant you’ll call on Monday to tell him whether he got the job, and then don’t call.

Lecture your child for an hour on his transgressions and bring up everything he has done wrong in the past.

Let your dog bark for hours outside in the middle of the night.

Simply hang up when the party on the other end says “Hello” and you realize you’ve called a wrong number.

Lend a book to a friend when you’ve already promised it to another friend.

Never pay back the petty change you borrow.

Throw your spouse’s coffee away without asking whether he or she is finished drinking it.

Use someone else’s idea but take all the credit.

Do you know any other ways that you may be persecuting someone?

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I guess there are some things I’ll never understand.

For example, why would a landscaper come to your house, draw up elaborate plans, meet with you to go over the plans, and then never get back to you with a bid?

When you call him, he says, “Oh, I’m going to get that bid out this afternoon.” But it never arrives.

I’ve heard stories about furnace men, air conditioner people, painters, plumbers, carpenters, and wallpaper hangers coming to make a bid, and then never getting back to the person with their bid.

If they see that they don’t want the job, why not tell the customer, instead of putting the customer on hold?

Then there’s the plumber who says,

“I’ll be there Monday afternoon.” You take off work to meet him. And, by heck, he doesn’t show.

Monday night you can’t reach him. Tuesday morning you can’t reach him. Tuesday afternoon, when you finally talk, he doesn’t even say, “I’m sorry,” or, “I forgot,” or, “I got tied up.” He says, “I’ll be there Thursday.”

You cross your fingers. Of course you could call another plumber, but you might run into the same thing again.

There is also the person who says, “I’ll call you this afternoon with the information,” and then doesn’t call.

Even if he isn’t able to get the information, he could give you the courtesy of a call back. Or he could have his office call and explain that he wasn’t able to get the information.

We all have times when we don’t want to make a phone call that we have promised to make. Our life is already too full. But if we could remember how it feels to hear someone say they are going to do something, and then not do it, we might be more responsible.

This week, do everything you say you are going to do. If you can’t possibly follow through, give the person a call back, or send them an email.

Life isn’t always so dependable. But people could be.

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