When encountering rude people...
I was completely exhausted, I had just landed back in Los Angeles after flying all day across the country. I stopped to buy a sandwich in the airport with the intention of just sitting down and relaxing for a bit while waiting on my friend to pick me up from the airport. Just as I moved toward a table I had spotted and I heard a woman yell aggressively, "You can't sit here!" I stood there stunned as a woman with dark hair approached and continued with the same tone that seared into me, "No, this is for customers only". The people seated around just stared. I was so embarrassed and could feel anger rising up within me. My heart started racing. I calmly explained that I was a customer and I had just bought a sandwich. Then, I was told that I couldn’t sit unless I ordered off a menu at this restaurant that shared it’s space with the counter I had just bought a fifteen dollar pre-made sandwich from. "I will order,” I said and was greeted with suspicion as I held the sandwich that had become far less appealing now that it wasn’t going to grant me a seat. She didn’t move, instead she just looked at me with a scowl. I reiterated, “I will take a menu and I will order.”
I could feel the audience around me still staring, they had all gone quiet while watching the exchange. I felt humiliated and a sense of deep unworthiness had welled up inside. I felt that I needed to prove I belonged there. At times in my life I felt this same sense of rejection from salespeople looking me up and down or walking into a restaurant and realizing I couldn’t afford much on the menu and then being judged when I ordered something inexpensive. So I sunk my heels in, not budging. She walked me over to a table coldly, placed the menu down and then left me silently. She stood across the room just glaring at me as a server approached to take my drink order. I placed the sandwich in my bag so this host would stop staring. I figured she was waiting to see if I had lied about ordering.
Not even a half hour before this, I had been seated on a plane in an aisle seat next to a mother with her young son that was about five or six years old. Across the aisle, was her husband and their daughter that was probably about nine. Throughout the flight, her son wanted to go back and forth switching seats with their daughter. He spent much of the flight either crying or just wanting to be able to run around and play. I smiled at the mom sensing her embarrassment and frustration and even told her not to worry when she apologized because I had to get up so many times. She seemed to appreciate that I didn't mind as the kids went back and forth between their parents. It was a bit exhausting but I just thought about how difficult it must be for parents flying with young kids. I was running on little sleep but just made the best of it and tried to focus on relaxing and reading my book. After this long day of flying I found out my friend who was picking me up from the airport was running over an hour late, which is why I had decided to eat at the airport.
After ordering my meal, I sat there and noticed the host who had been rude to me. My heart rate was returning to normal and the embarrassment and anger were fading. I looked at her, without her noticing as she walked across the room. I saw she was limping as she moved. I hadn't noticed the limp as she had taken me to the table, probably because I had lowered my head while passing guests who had looked up at me after I had been scolded. At that moment I started to feel so much compassion for this woman that I didn’t even know. I started wondering about her, was she in pain? Was this the end of a long shift for her? Did rude and tired people pass her all day long and ignore her? Was this a job she needed but hated? I just started to feel deep empathy for her.
How many grumpy or rude people do we encounter and just get angry at? What if we realized it isn’t about us? What if we instead, just beamed love knowing we were diffusing the negativity?
Then as I was sitting there, I saw a table of women who had looked up at me in my moment of embarrassment. They were talking and I heard one of the women start telling the others about how cancer had changed her. I couldn't help listening in as I waited on my food to arrive. I sat there and heard about her chemo treatments, how exhausting it had been on her and how hard it was wanting to guard her daughters from the experience and also wanting to be honest at the same time. I couldn’t even imagine how hard that would be.
My salad arrived and I was left there feeling thankful I hadn't outwardly reacted with the host of the restaurant. That even though I was experiencing anger, I had kept my composure aside from probably looking wide eyed. I had noticed the feeling welling within me, I had acknowledged it within myself and I hadn't been rude, I didn’t shout back, or retreat away. I had faced it, took my seat, sat in an uncomfortable situation and learned from it.
Even when someone is rude to us, it doesn't give us a free pass to be rude back. When someone yells at us doesn't mean we should yell. In fact, we should do the opposite and find the calm center within ourselves and let me tell you, this hard to do sometimes. When someone closes their heart to us the first thing we instinctively want to do is close ours but it’s in that moment when we should extend our heart. This is what it means to love unconditionally. It doesn’t mean we agree or condone the behavior, it means that we choose to not attack back or get defensive. People who are rude often expect others to be rude back, it's a way they often are able to justify their attitude after the fact. When we greet them kindly instead of reacting to their negativity with more of the same we stop the cycle.
Later in my meal, I caught eyes with the woman who had told her cancer story and smiled at her and she smiled warmly back at me. I ate there quietly just taking it all in and practicing mindfulness while tasting the different flavors within my salad. Later the host came back around to seat a guest next to me and asked if I could move my bags to make more room on the bench seat and I said, "of course.” I slid them over for the woman and greeted her warmly. She had just come in from Vancouver, a city I love and we chatted for a few moments before I had to leave to meet my friend downstairs. As I left the restaurant I noticed the host seemed kinder and in a better energetic state. I believe that by showing kindness back to her, even when she hadn't shown me the same respect we had both learned something.
A friend of mine showed me this video and I think it helps to drive the point home. We don't know what another person is going through based on a brief encounter. Instead of just giving people back the energy they give us, choose to be compassionate and loving. If they choose to be rude, know that it has nothing to do with you. Just keep beaming your light.