We arrived at the island airport feeling relaxed and rejuvenated after a great vacation. We immediately noticed that the small ticket counter area was filled with stifling lines of suitcase laden, sunburned travelers that wound around several times and back out the side of the open fronted building. It was easy to assume that most of the travelers were irritable and impatient. Our vacation state of mind was in jeopardy.
As I repositioned my roll-on suitcase, I accidentally bumped into the woman standing behind us. I apologized, but the look on her face in response was severe. She let out an audible sigh of what I thought was disgust. However, when I looked into her eyes to issue an apology, I saw pain and sadness, not anger. The exchange took less than five seconds, but as I turned to reclaim my place in line, I realized that my assumption that the woman was angry didn’t feel right. Something else was wrong.
When our line started moving forward, I turned to the woman and commented on how nice it was that we were finally making progress. She nodded and looked at me, but now with tears in her eyes. I asked her if she was okay, and she shared that a few hours earlier she received a call letting her know that her mother passed away. This devastating news put her in a state of grief and shock, cut short a special two-week vacation with her youngest daughter and put her in the position of revising travel arrangements with short notice.
Later, as I sat on the plane, I thought about how I had misjudged this woman. She was sad, not angry. I thought about how often we make incorrect assumptions about people and what is going on in their lives. I also thought about how we sometimes misjudge our children (teens, too) and think they are being difficult and defiant when they may be tired, hungry, stressed or upset.
I think it is important to be aware of the judgements we make about people. Maybe we could all make more of an effort to be understanding, and open to the possibility that the emotion people share on the surface may not represent what is going on with them internally. Maybe this shift will help us all be more empathetic, and change our reactions and interactions with others, for the positive. Imagine the good that could come from such a simple change.