A business associate mentioned that they felt I had exercised great patience and restraint in a conversation they observed me having with someone else who’d been disrespectful. They went on to comment that they didn’t think they could have had that same level of restraint if they had been the one in my place having that interaction. I then explained that the reason I’d been able to handle it the way I did was because I knew the backstory of the person who’d acted that way and I knew of their struggles they were going through and knowing those things helped me not take the disrespect personally, knowing those things helped my heart stay softened toward this other person.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said:
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
What Longfellow said is so very true and it is something we should remember in all of our interactions with others. Whether it’s an interaction with an enemy, a coworker, a loved one, a boss, a family member, a stranger, or a friend…we should remind ourselves that everyone has a backstory that contributes to how they are behaving toward us. That’s not to excuse anyone’s bad behavior, but simply to help us stay calm and tender-hearted enough to recognize that not every person who snaps at us should be snapped back at. In fact, more often than not, the person doing the snapping is desperately in need of some compassion – chances are they need our greatest show of kindness in the very moments they are acting in a manner that least deserves it.
Try to remember that happy and self-confident people naturally treat others with kindness and respect – so a person who is acting unkind or disrespectful is unhappy and struggling to recognize their own self-worth. And your show of kindness may be the first they’ve experienced in a long time…
~Amy Rees Anderson