I found a great passage in the book Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She was describing her experience at an Indian ashram. She was specifically describing her job as hostess; an administrative job which required her to meet the needs of her fellow housemates.
I love all these people automatically an unconditionally. I even love the pain-in-the-ass ones. I can see through their neuroses and recognize that they’re just horribly afraid of what they’re going to face when they go into silence and meditation for seven days. I love the Indian man who comes to me in outrage, reporting that there’s a four-inch statue of the Indian god Ganesh in his room with one foot missing. He’s furious. He thinks this is a terrible omen and wants that statue removed –, ideally by a Brahman priest, during a “traditionally appropriate” cleansing ceremony. I comfort him and listen to his anger, then send my teenage tomboy friend Tulsi over to the guy’s room to get rid of the statue while he’s at lunch. The next day I pass the man a note, telling him that I hope he’s feeling better now that the broken statue is gone, and reminding him I’m here if he needs anything else whatsoever. He rewards me with a giant, relieved smile. He’s just afraid.
Now, few people reading this will be going anywhere near a Buddhist Ashram, I realize. But Elizabeth Gilbert’s ashram experience could be a microcosm of any workplace. The same principle applies to everyday life, especially the workplace.
Reading this reminded me that everyone has some level of fear in this life, and that fear dictates their responses to various stressors. Some have seemingly minute problems, like the temperature of the office; others are dealing with a boss who wants them to cheat to get ahead.
I think if I consciously made an effort to remember this, it might change how I respond to other peoples’ angst. Instead of taking it as a personal attack, I can respond with kindness and understanding, but most of all peace.
I’m not going to lie to you. This takes work. It isn’t instinctual. I will most likely want to reconsider my intentions of kindness, because, well, I hadn’t counted on it being this difficult today….