I had the good fortune of taking a week’s vacation with my family and my sister’s family. We drove many hundreds of miles to see a number of sights. At one point, we had driven for several hours and we were sorely lost in the hill country of Pennsylvania. The kids were starving, we were tired, and we stopped at a McDonald’s for a restroom break and some food. I actually don’t eat McDonald’s food, but my kids like it. They gave me their “order” and then ran to the restroom.
I approached the counter and was a bit distracted by the number of options – Big Mac, or Big Mac meal with what soda, etc.? I went up to a lady named Jane and started to order the kids’ requests. She began to ask me questions – “medium or large”, “with or without whipped cream”, etc. The kids hadn’t given me enough information, so I kept stammering, trying to figure out what to do. In addition, I changed my own mind about whether I should eat something there or not. Throughout my difficulty, I remained very respectful of Jane, however, and of how patiently she was waiting for me to respond. At one point I said to her, “Hopefully I will be your worst customer today and the day will improve from here!” She responded in an interesting fashion, “You know, usually I would feel so upset and frustrated that a customer didn’t know what they wanted and was holding the line up. But there is something about your style and your approach that not only can I NOT get mad at you, but I am enjoying dealing with you!”
I laughed with her and told her I would call McDonald’s 1-800 number to report what a sweetheart she was (and I did so as soon as I left the location…). The exchange with Jane reminded me how much we do control many interactions throughout our day with others, even though we forget the power we have to influence another person. I knew I was being annoying, but instead of approaching Jane like she was my servant, I honestly felt respectful toward her and her role. She could feel this from me, and it allowed her to open up and be more compassionate toward me.
In so many exchanges throughout our day we have opportunities to see the humanity in another person. We aren’t superior to another person. We aren’t better than another person. We are just different from others. But our inner experiences often mirror what someone else is dealing with. If I feel frustrated and act out toward you, won’t you likely become frustrated and respond in kind toward me? But if I truly care about your reaction, and your experience – won’t you possibly let your guard down and feel more genuine toward me?
This microcosmic experience in a Pennsylvania McDonald’s reminded me, in general, of how often we want to change another person in many of our day-to-day interactions. Instead of expending our energy to change others, what if we changed our experience toward someone else? What if we took responsibility to be the kinder, gentler person? I’m not advocating that we let someone abuse us, or act ill towards us – we have to have appropriate boundaries in place, too – but in situations where we might feel someone else was beneath us, what if we acted instead as if they were very important? Seeing the other person as a hurting human being with their own emotional responses can sometimes break down a wall and open that other person up to us.
Both Jane and I had an eye-opening experience that day. I don’t know if Jane sensed it as I did, but I realized how much power my response had to influence the reaction of another person. If I exerted this power more consciously, I believe I would experience more situations where a person chose a positive response instead of a negative one. I am going to work on it this week, and I hope you will too!