I’ve always considered myself to be pretty judgemental. I have strong opinions about people and their behaviours; and nothing gets me more riled than others rudeness and lack of respect. My husband Simon feels exactly the same way and we’ve often felt a bit embarrassed by just how much we can bitch about the attitude and actions of others.
But today, propped up in bed and drinking coffee while the sky gradually turned from black to light grey, we had a realisation that made us feel much better…
Both of us work in jobs that allow us snapshots of some of the worst behaviours. He teaches science in an inner city school, I work in a pharmacy. Each day we respectively deal with kids who single mindedly disrupt entire classes (ruining the experience for everyone); kids who turn up late, without homework, books or focus; and kids who are grumpy, petulant or downright angry; or customers who shout when their prescriptions aren’t ready because they ordered them too late; smokers on benefits who miss Quit Smoking appointments and thus the chance to improve both their health and their finances; or customers who are rude and miserable in their mere mid-sixties, when you get to my age…
And yet we pride ourselves, day after day, on treating each and every child or customer with respect, kindness and good humour. I never fail to greet each of my customers with a smile. My husband treats each child, each class that walks through the door with the same respect as the last, regardless of how past experience has taught him that this particular individual is likely to create havoc.
While some of our colleagues dismiss repeat offenders: not them again! how can they behave like that? They ruin things for everyone! How can they be so stupid? Why should I have to be polite to them? If they can’t help themselves no-one else can! What’s wrong with these people? Why won’t they just behave? we try to give people a fresh start every time we see them. Ok, there are always those who make our hearts sink as they arrive but it doesn’t give us the right to treat them with anything less than respect or compassion.
The problem is that we never know what has lead someone to behave the way they do. The child who is always late and disorganised may have brain fog and depression (as I did) or have been caring for someone less able at home. The child who is disruptive may have ADHD or an abusive or neglected home situation. Often my rudest customers are permanently in pain and/or addicted to painkillers. The ones who moan the most feel let down by their bodies and the health profession. The ones who drive me demented with obsessive questioning are confused, their brains often addled by the side effects caused by the cocktail of medications they take four times a day. They may already be at their limits of best behaviour.
Making judgements about others actions is normal human behaviour. Bitching is often a stress relief or a way to think aloud with a trusted other. It can help us make sense of a world that often causes us pain or confusion. When we complain to a trusted other that an action caused upset, you can help relieve the upset caused to yourself by that action.
Judging the person behind the actions though? That’s a tricky one. When we judge a person rather than an individual action we are judging another’s worth. And I think this is dangerous.
When a child’s worth is judged they cease to get the support they need to become a healthy functioning adult. It’s too easy to label a troublemaker, a loser, a waste-of-space, a bully. But then that child slips through the net. They develop coping mechanisms that further alienate them.
When a customer’s worth or a patient’s worth is judged on their ability to manage their meds they’re just addicts; if they’d only stop they’d be fine; they are failed by the very professionals that are in a position to support them and their families to succeed.
This scares me.
We see this time and time again. Judgement of others is such a cop out. And it fractures society more effectively than the actions of those who are judged.
And so, while Simon and I will often rant to each other about how the actions of others hurt us, irritate us or piss us off completely we take care to never judge other people’s worth.
I smile at grumpy customers until my face hurts, and when they finally smile back I know I’ve achieved more than just handing out their prescription. I take time to fully explain the dispensing procedure to the ones who come in spoiling for a fight; because feeling out of control can cause great stress. And the people who miss Nicotine Replacement Therapy appointments with me get blasted with enthusiasm because it’s a lack of confidence that stops people quitting addictions.
Meanwhile, Simon is hugely popular with his students. He is a rock and a haven of calm for the most disruptive of children. Unlike myself he is not eager to please and, frankly, does not particularly care whether he is liked or not. He is no performing monkey! But he balances the needs of a class full of individuals with his own role of authority within a classroom and so has both the trust and respect of the most, let’s say, disciplinary challenged!
I’m done ranting. It’s all about compassion. At this time of year I think compassion is an important thing to focus on. It’s not just about treating the sweetly disadvantaged cases with love and respect. Its easy to care for those who gratefully smile and say thank you out loud. But finding the light in the rude, bolshy, angry, sullen, disruptive people we deal with day to day? That takes work.
After we mulled all this over this morning, and before we ventured downstairs to walk the dog and prepare breakfast, Simon told me a story that just cracked me up. I’m going to wrap this rather lengthy Post up with it.
Teaching a lesson on electrical conductivity he’d got all his students standing on the desks with linked fingers. One child was poised to spark off an electrical current from a Van de Graaff generator that would travel down the line of eleven year olds. One child suddenly got scared and asked if her friend could sing and distract her. This friend, by all accounts, was one of those kids I mentioned earlier. Highly disruptive, argumentative and rude. But next thing Simon knows this kid starts singing and has the “voice of an angel!” He’s looking around at all these kids standing silently on their desks and this angelic voice is mesmerising everyone while a current links them all. It’s profoundly moving.
And then the girl singing gives the kid next to her an electric shock and everyone screams!