“Give everyone the benefit of the doubt today…”
Here’s something I’ve learned firsthand. No matter how someone looks or acts, you truly never know what’s happening in their lives.
Five years ago my husband Walter was dying from cancer. Twice during a thirteen-month period he was hospitalized, thirty minutes away from our home.
I spent about ten hours a day at the hospital, plus travel time during those long weeks. I was a wreck.
I don’t know what I looked like to the outside world. Inside I felt impatient, angry, sad, out of my mind with grief, and tired. Still, I had to interact with the world like everyone else.
I had to put gas in the car, go to the bank, buy dog food, and grocery shop. I had to walk through the world and be polite or wait my turn, when all I wanted to do was break down and cry or yell. Everything felt hard and surreal.
During those times when Walter was hospitalized I got into a routine. In the morning I would stop at my local coffee shop to get a latte on the way to the hospital.
For some unknown reason during this time I also started craving banana cream pie—it was a bright spot in my day. On my way home from the hospital I would stop at the pie shop near my house. This routine helped keep me sane.
What I will never forget about the time period, and what stands out the most, are the small kindnesses that strangers and friends offered me.
One morning I was running late to get to the hospital, and when I went to get coffee there was a long line—almost out the door.
I knew my husband would be waiting for me, wondering where I was. I felt really stressed about it.
Out of desperation I asked the person directly ahead of me in line if they would mind if I went before them because I had to get to the hospital. He said no problem and then asked everyone else in line if I could hop to the front.
Everyone said yes, even though I’m sure we all needed that morning coffee equally.
It may sound like a small thing, but I will never forget it. It helped me feel supported, got me on my way, and dropped my stress level down a notch. When you’re already in overwhelm mode, that’s huge.
At the pie shop, the same woman worked the evening shift during the week. One day, while she was boxing up my piece of pie, she started asking me questions about myself. I gave her a thumbnail sketch of what was happening.
She handed me the pie that night and wouldn’t take any money or a tip—it was on her, she said.
Every night after that, she would box-up a super-sized piece of banana cream to go. Again, it might seem like a small thing, but it meant more to me then I can ever explain. In the midst of the bad stuff that was happening there were so many small acts of kindness that filled me with gratitude.
We really never know what’s going on in someone’s life—what news they might have gotten that day, whether they just lost their job or have a loved one who is ill. That’s why it’s so important to lead with kindness as often as we can.
Give everyone the benefit of the doubt instead of taking something they say or do personally.
I know there were times that my reaction to the normal everyday annoyances was way out of proportion to what was actually taking place. I was doing the best that I could at that time to be polite and hold it together.
Now, whenever I get frustrated or annoyed with someone’s actions, I remind myself that I don’t really know what’s going on in their life. I try to take a breath, not take it personally, and trust that they are doing the best they can.
You may never know how much a small act of kindness will affect someone.
I can tell you though that for me, the kindness of strangers and friends kept me going during one of the worse times of my life—they were a lifeline. I continue to remember them and will for the rest of my life. I truly believe acts of good will last a lifetime.