One time, many many many years ago, we went on a family camping trip to Yellowstone. A particularly grouchy ranger at one of the entrance booths made an indelible impression on my cousin Zak, who asked Grandma if that man had had dirty water for breakfast. It's a phrase we use often in my family--a very powerful phrase describing someone who must have had a really bad morning.
A few years ago when I had had a somewhat negative encounter with a professor, my Uncle Steve encouraged me to give her a box of Cheerios, assuming that she must have not had a very good breakfast because of the way she treated me.
I love that--the assumption that people treat each other poorly because of some personal difficulty. Not only did Uncle Steve teach me to open my perspective beyond a sour discussion to a larger life behind that conversation, but he also encouraged me to find a way to lighten someone else's heavy load.
Yesterday I had one of those sour encounters--a 45-minute phone conversation with an irate woman who must have had dirty water for breakfast. It's true--I had made a mistake and I was trying to make things right with her. But through my sincere apology and expression of respect for her work, she continued to ring me up and down. I was so grateful that I had had a nice breakfast--that I was able to have the presence of mind to recognize that there was more to her life than the small problem I had caused. I was able to listen and to not become defensive--I tried to reiterate her frustration and to find ways to make things right. Although we did not end seeing eye to eye (and yes, I got off the phone and had a quick "therapy" session with a dear friend who helped me see my own insecurities in the process), now I do want to give this woman a box of cheerios. Do you think I can send one to Knoxville?After all, no one deserves dirty water.