September 29, 2013
I delivered the sermon from my driver's seat pulpit, my favorite mount from which to dispense worldly wisdom and perspective.
So I didn't actually see my children's eyes rolling. But the air hung heavy with that mixture of weariness and disdain that usually follows my speeches. (My daughter once told me, "Mom, things don't always mean something.")
This particular day's lesson was inspired by a little gem I stumbled upon in a Huffington Post essay by journalist and screenwriter Nancy Doyle Palmer: "There is little to be gained by assuming the worst in people."
Man, I couldn't wait to use that one. I waltzed right into the first opening I could find: my daughter complaining about a fellow classmate's recess etiquette.
"She never talks to us. She just sits on a bench and reads."
Why do you think she does that?
"She thinks she's better than us."
Or do you think she might be shy?
Are you sure? I wonder if maybe she needs a friend.
"No. She thinks she's better than us."
Bingo! HuffPo essay quoted. Eyes rolled. (I assume.) Many minutes of silence endured. And then …
"Whatever. I mean, I guess we could invite her to my birthday party."
I went around feeling mighty proud of myself after that, right up to the moment when I found myself railing (aloud, with my kids in the car) against a fellow parent's driving etiquette.
In other words, assuming the worst.
Feeling a little sheepish, I gave myself a challenge. What if I started assuming the best in every person I encountered?
That guy who cut me off in the school kiss 'n' go lane? He's not a narcissist who believes both his time and his child are more important than mine. Nah. He's a brain surgeon! Who always makes time to drop his sweet daughter at school! Despite having morning patients! He's in a hurry to save lives, that's all!
The woman who let the door slam in my face behind her? Flu shot. Sore arm.
The neighbor who ignored my cheery good morning greeting? Meditating.
The reader who emailed me that I seem like "quite a little snot"? Needs a friend.
The exercise is not sustainable, of course. Eventually I'd run out of noble pursuits to attach to the road rage-y kiss 'n' go parents. And even the most charitable part of me doesn't believe quite-a-little-snot guy wants to be my friend.
But it got me searching for goodness.
I started to feel a kinship with people who would otherwise have dragged me down. I started to see them, even the crabby ones, as allies — fellow humans who are juggling schedules and defeats and insecurities.
I started practicing some grace.
Which doesn't mean blindly and endlessly assuming the best in people. But it does mean assuming they're trying. Trying to get it all done, trying to keep it together, trying to be heard.
A few days later, I was dropping my daughter at school when I locked eyes with one of the parents volunteering for safety patrol. She was helping my daughter out of the car, and she gave me a warm smile and told me to have a good day.
And I saw her, in that moment, as a fellow human who is, most likely, juggling schedules and defeats and insecurities. It made her warmth and time and devotion that much more poignant. She got there and she smiled and she helped my child.
I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for a gesture that I've taken for granted dozens upon dozens of times: a grown-up helping my kid out of the car. I started noticing goodness where it truly exists, not just where I could dream it up.
And that's what I gained by assuming the best in people.
Plus a new sermon to deliver from my mount.
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