Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beyond Appearances

“I truly believe that compassion provides the basis of human survival.” ~ The Dalai Lama

I’ve always enjoyed waking up early in the morning. Every day carries a new opportunity to learn something, the chance to develop a new awareness, the gift of growing up a bit more with each spontaneous experience, so as I start a new day I am usually as excited as a child on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday, that unique learning experience took place at the bank, where I saw an older gentleman basically shredding the teller to pieces because of a hold on a check. Having done the same type of work before, I knew why holds are placed on checks, and I also knew that the teller is in no way responsible – the computer prompts the hold and she has no other option but follow it if she wants to properly handle the transaction.

Although the man looked as if he was on the verge of a heart attack, the teller was cool and collected, and if I may say, quite kind. She explained the terms of the hold and offered to direct the gentleman to her supervisor to see if anything could be resolved.

After the transaction was finalized, it was my turn. I smiled at the teller and told her how much I admired her demeanor, to which she replied something I did not expect.

She explained that the gentleman in question was going through a very hard financial time lately – he had been laid off a few months before, and was only making a living with odd jobs he found here and there. This check was probably payment for one of those jobs, and he was angry that he could not cash in what was rightfully his. She knew his indignation was masked frustration, and not a direct attack.

When I walked out of the bank, I wondered how many people I run into every day that are going through a hard time. Could their spouse just have passed away? Could their child be terminally ill? Could they be facing losing their home or something else just as cherished?

Truth is, we don’t know. All we can see is the surface of the water, not what is happening beneath the top layer. Ultimately, happy people do not try to make others miserable, so if someone is lashing out or being difficult, it is likely that they are experiencing a trauma of their own.

In this case, the customer could not pay his bills without cashing in the check; somewhere else a mother could be snapping at her children because, if she can’t account for every moment of their day, she might find herself explaining her behavior to a judge. Another case could be that of someone who recently lost a loved one, and hasn’t come to terms with their pain yet.

Pain is often redirected and expressed in ways which allow us to blow off steam without broadcasting the true reason for the discomfort. But no matter what the individual situation, a gesture of kindness can indeed go a very long way.

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