There is a father and daughter in front of me. She’s supposed to be doing homework but has been seduced by her phone. She’s about 9 or 10 I’d say. The father, on the other hand, has his laptop open, to do work I suppose. But I haven’t seen him type anything. He also has his phone open, and every so often growls at his daughter for not doing her homework.
I come to the library often, mostly to get some quiet and get some work done. But it’s fascinating the other things you see and learn.
Across the room I notice a mum with her teenage daughter. They seem to be walking around looking for a teen fiction book to read. The girl doesn’t know what she likes (or wants) and the mum is getting more grumpy with every step they take. The mother’s tone suggests her daughter isn’t a reader and the facial expression from the teenager would suggest the same.
But still, the mother insists her daughter find a book to read. It’s kind of weird to watch actually.
The other people that take my eye is a dad with his toddler daughter. I think it’s his daughter, I’m not sure. She’s wreaking havoc, to be honest, and running away. The father calls for her daughter to come back with a loud voice, but she ignores his plea. He yells even louder and before long most people in the library have stopped to see what (or who) is causing the ruckus.
Public places are strange I reckon, libraries especially. Between libraries and airports, those who enjoy people watching can have a field day!
But here’s the thing I’ve learnt about public places like libraries and airports, cafe’s and shopping centres; there is stuff going on between these people that I know nothing about.
There is an old saying that says:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
And it’s so true.
The dad and daughter who are struggling in front of me to do their work could be living out the back of a car. Or maybe the dad is going through divorce? Or maybe they are struggling to make ends meet? Perhaps he’s even struggling to just be a dad.
The list of possible causes for the behaviour is endless.
And the toddler who is running away with the dad screaming and yelling, maybe it’s his first outing with the girl? Maybe he’s actually the grandfather and the toddler is used to getting her way? Or maybe he just got laid off from his job and he’s already struggling.
You see, when we stop our own immediate reactions and judgements and take a moment to just consider what may be going on in the life of the other person, we instantly develop empathy.
There is no other way to develop it than to be in an environment where you are required to seek understanding and pause your own judgements.
Instead of being all self-righteous and Pharisaical about what I see, I can take the position of a peer and seek to understand the situation.
Too often we launch into people and expect them to be acting differently. Too often we make assumptions about others, and we all know what happens when we make those!
Next time you’re in a public place, or anywhere for that matter, and there is some strange or erratic or weird behaviour taking place, stop and take a step back. Stop and pause and imagine what could be going on for the people.
I guarantee you there is more going on than meets the eye, and the last thing most people need is another lecture, growl or scolding look from a member of the public.
Be kind, show empathy.
The rest is easy.