I woke up one morning during the 2018 holidays and went about my morning chores. This includes scooping my litter boxes and carrying the waste in a plastic bag to the garbage shoot in my condo’s building. On my way there, I saw that a neighbor’s dog had had an accident on the walkway. I stepped carefully around the mess and returned to my apartment ticked off.
I thought about what had just occurred as I continued my morning chores. I realized I was being a jerk and went outside to remove the mess, so none of my other neighbors would have to navigate around it. Once outside I saw that the poop was gone. I felt ashamed of myself for having been angry and judgmental toward my neighbors, who probably just needed a few minutes before cleaning up. But I also was proud of my willingness to do the right thing and take care of the mess myself. This incident reminded me of two important things. First, to always try to do what I believe is right, and second, to be more gracious toward others.
I often have trouble hearing when I call help lines to obtain assistance with technical issues. I believe many call centers use cheap headsets and don’t adequately train their employees. Sometimes I must ask the help desk employee to speak slowly and clearly at least half a dozen times before we can communicate effectively. This is a frustrating process, and by the time I receive help, I’m often testy. I occasionally fear I’ve been the customer service representative’s worst call of the day. I often have to apologize for my behavior as the call ends.
I try to balance this deficit by remembering to thank any customer service representative with whom this issue does not occur. I go out of my way to be generous with my praise in the hopes of creating some balance for my bad behavior during other calls. We aren’t capable of being our best selves all the time, but I like to compensate by being especially appreciative of those who deserve it.
I know when I’m upset, I need to refrain from immediately reacting. This is especially true at work, where maddening e-mails appear suddenly or colleagues say stupid things in meetings. My adrenaline surges, and I want to respond with snarky or other similarly inappropriate comments. I’ve learned that no matter how distressed I am, I need to calm down before I put hands to keyboards or open my mouth. I once walked out of a meeting run by my two bosses. They had no idea what happened until the colleagues who remained seated explained it to them.
After I excused myself from that meeting, I left my office building to relax. By the time one of the bosses sought me out to apologize, I could respond professionally. I try to take this same tack in my private life. My emotions and intellect are not always in synch. As a result, I make a conscious effort not to be reactive when upset. This practice applies to my health challenges too. When I learned I’d grown a two-inch tumor in my spleen, I didn’t call my family right away to tell them the bad news. I mindfully calmed down before reaching out to them. When under duress, I wait for the surge in stress hormones to abate before I take action.