I have heard it many times, and even said it myself, after someone shares their story, “wow, if I had known that was going on…” or “I wish I had known that about them before.” Whatever their behavior, it becomes easier to overlook bad behavior, or be amazed at someone’s desirable behavior when we hear where someone has been. When someone has been rude, or just plain annoying, and we hear that their dog died that day, we have compassion for them, and release the annoyances and offenses we picked up from them.
There seems to be something in us that measures if the person deserves compassion and how much of it. As I have been subbing, I have been reminded of how everyone has a story. There is always a back story. We may not know it but it never hurts to give someone some extra grace, to assume there is more going on than meets the eye.
I think of the kid who seemed to be giving up on her school work. With a few questions, her story started flowing about her Christmas Break involving moving a parent to a new home far away, and how she will be joining her when school is done. Next year is a new school, so to her, this work does not matter. Or the kid who has lost their home, and now sleeps on grandma’s couch where people are in and out, and TVs are on. How is this kid supposed to process well and function well?
With kids I am quick to wonder what else is going on and not assume this is who they are. They help me to remember that my information is incomplete and there is so much more in that person’s life than the moment I meet them. Incomplete, what if each person I meet I assume that there is more to the story. What if I did not wait to hear the rest of the story before I offer grace and compassion.
I was at a dinner recently and I was attempting to make small talk with the man across from me. He was very curt with me and I asked some questions about some project he was over and his quick response was, “are we really going to do this now?” I was not sure what nerve I had struck unintentionally. I tried to make a joke and let him know I had no vested interest in the thing I had asked about. Just interested in his thoughts. It was obvious that there would be no winning this man over, or having any sort of conversation. I could see a deep sadness and hostility on him, so I smiled and started praying for him. I knew that there was more to his story. My information was very incomplete. I chose not to take offense at his rudeness.
I think about how many opportunities I have to practice this incomplete information thought process, at the grocery store, post office, at schools I sub in with teachers, as well as students. The internet has many opportunities to practice assuming my information is incomplete, when people share things that seem so contrary to who they seem to be, or seem contrary to what the truth is, I want to practice this assumption that my knowledge is incomplete.
As Bob Goff suggests in his book, Everybody Always, he assumes that the person disagreeing with him must be smarter than him, or the person doing something that seems very odd to him, must know something he does not. Each person then becomes a person to learn from, or at least love with a bit more compassion to add a little light and hope to their day.
When I stop and realize there is more to a person than their behavior at this moment, it helps me to see them as the person they are, so much more complex, with so much more life going on than what is happening in this moment. Yes, they may continue to be rude, or a jerk, but looking at them and realizing my lens is incomplete allows me to cut them some slack that I would want people to cut me in my many not so stellar moments.