If there is one skill set my system has perfected, it is to eviscerate the incompetent. Any delay, any error of a practical nature, any inconsistency, and my eye is hawk to mouse. It took a very weird trip on some strong drugs (oral surgery) to flush out the true rustle of grass from wind-shift meanderings. My conclusion is that I need to make a crucial adjustment to my perspective-taking.
The Starting Point
I am not kind to strangers. My patience is razor-thin and I show no mercy to those who do not apologize immediately for their oversights or mistakes. “Do better and do it now” is the north star of guidance for my inner compass. I’m the person for which dating sites offer warnings—the rude one who exhibits distain for those who are merely trying to provide a warm meal or bag some groceries. I justify my behavior through my own diligence and sense of duty: If I can show up and give my full effort and/or acknowledge my flaws directly, why can’t others? Does character count for nothing?
It feels like war, to go out in public and rely on other humans to get my needs met. I’m a general more concerned with arriving home, spoils intact, than anyone or anything else. I dehumanize instantly and profoundly whenever someone cannot or will not march at my break-neck pace. I’m not sure when and where others were conscripted into my army of efficiency, duty and thoroughness, nor do I think most would stay enlisted were they given the chance to leave. I have insta-rage always at the ready as my chosen weapon should anyone disappoint me.
On my recent very long and strange trip, after getting IV sedation for oral surgery along with narcotic pain medication, I discovered a sliver of tooth in my mouth. Not from the extraction site, but from another nearby tooth. I contacted the oral surgeon, who tried to tell me my tooth sliver wasn’t a tooth sliver. Fury erupted and I vowed to never go back to him again. I ranted to my friends about his obvious incompetence. Something less than perfection and/or immediate prostrate confession of inadequacies had occurred. Unacceptable.
My mind, however, saw an opportunity in my drug-induced haziness to challenge me to examine the landscape I’ve simply scampered by every other time I’ve climbed to the pinnacle of “once again, humans suck and I’m mad” mountain. What if not everyone saw him (the oral surgeon) in the same light as I did? What if he was good at some tasks or roles, just not in relation to me? What if my experience with him, flawed through it was, was an outlier? All my life I’ve searched for the three stones I deem necessary to prove someone is an idiot (once is an accident, twice is pushing it, three times and it’s on). What if I was missing the many-hued scrub and sunset of beautiful humanness in my quest to be right and smart and less shitty than others?
A Panoramic Vantage Point
The lightbulb moment for me on my journey of perspective-taking is the realization that I have spent much of my life overgeneralizing my personal interactions with an individual into a representation of their entire being. I feel shame at the arrogance and haughtiness behind my assumptions, but I also glimpse self-protection under the crevasse. If someone treats me in a way that evokes my contempt, what is it easier to do? Respond with derision and decide that’s simply who they are as a person, or wonder about the individual and societal forces leading to the person’s actions? If someone makes repeated mistakes (like ringing up an item incorrectly), what role does my insta-rage have in leading them to additional fumbles? What if I’m missing joy and authenticity in my desire to punish others for the “unfairness” of having to wait or explain or contend with flippancy?
Descending into Complexity
Something in me recoils at the idea of tossing the small stones of poor performance to the side. They threaten to find entrance to my shoes and, though tiny, blister and boil their way back into my experience. I simply cannot consistently overlook someone failing to do the basic requirements of their job in a professional manner. I get to say “that wasn’t what I deserved.” I do much more than this, though. I throw stones. I demean and demand my path be cleared of all debris, lest I stub my precious toes.
I aim to choose now to weigh the pebbles, note their characteristics and place them down, rather than to continue to turn them into weapons. It is okay to name an encounter as disappointing or sub-par. I have to remember, though, at every turn, that what I hold in my hand only one grain of sand among millions. That I believe that my dust particle—the proof of how much someone sucks at something based on one encounter I had with them—stands a true testament to the collective amalgamation of water and blood and stone they are as an entire person behooves me. The literal grit in my teeth after my surgery represents to me the cost of chewing on and absorbing other’s failures. Why not dig out each bit, label it and then return it to the earth? Why not free up my breath and my hands and my toes and all of me to encounter beauty and connection, rather than dwell on the insignificant proofs of concept to which I am steadfast?
There are, of course, more than pebbles and grit. There are boulders of abuse and neglect that have sought to crush out my soul. Some people have done me great harm in my life and my being struggles to weigh the offense accurately, finding all injustice equally threatening. Even so, choosing to carry other’s shame and failure as my own is self-made torture. They’ve callused and wounded me, but they do not decide my path nor do I owe them gratitude for the jagged ridges they’ve carved. Those stones are relics to what was in my life, not shrines before which I must prostrate myself. The liquid of my tears erodes their surface. I am not crushed and I am not fully encumbered by what has been.
Having scoped out new land, I can walk steadily towards it without each new obstacle categorized instantly on the side of threat. I can choose, wide-open scene in mind, to counter each shard of incompetence with a reminder that the people I encounter who fail to perform to my standards are in fact dazzling kaleidoscopes, shimmering, gleaming and transforming far beyond what my minute sampling can ever afford. Where I see flaw, others see crack in stone revealing gem. I can hold my sand and proclaim their inadequacy, but I must also acknowledge the sparkle of the divine we each contain.
How do you respond to people who seem to not put in effort at what they are “supposed” to be doing? How do you balance your desire for order and performance with grace for the mistakes we all make? How do you process disappointment and failure while remaining connected to a shared sense of humanity?