Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Seeing both sides of a mistake

I messed up with my friend Joanne. A big, big mistake. Usually I think pretty highly of myself, but when I did this thing it felt so bad it ached in my heart. I wanted to take it back, to apologize, to try to make things right again. But what could I possibly say to her? I didn't know what I should do. I didn't know what I could say to make things right again.

When I make a mistake and it impacts someone else, my instincts tell me to push away. I'd do anything to avoid the conflict.


Luckily, the day after my disaster with Joanne, I got a haircut.

The stylist was working away, cutting and talking and cutting and talking and perhaps you can imagine what happened next. I looked away for one second and when I looked back, a large chunk of my hair was gone. It was on the floor, instead of on my head.

She put down the scissors and comb and stood behind me for a few minutes, holding my hair this way, turning my head back and forth. She said, "Um, give me a second here." I knew something was exceptionally wrong. She said, "Well, I cut this side a little bit farther than I meant to. I'm going to call Lucy and see what she can do with this. She has lots of experience. I'll be right back. "

I looked at my reflection and couldn't think for a few seconds. This girl, I asked this girl to cut my hair.  I ran over and over again in my mind what I had said to her at the start. Was I clear enough? I told her, "Long layers, face frame. Cut it up to here. " I remember holding my hand up to my shoulders, showing her. I turned my head to the side to look again. Yep, it's pretty short now, it's up to my ears on one side.

She came back and spoke, all in a rush. "Hah, yeah okay so I can't get Lucy but she's on break, she must be close by and she has to be back soon and I expect her back any minute and she's the expert and she'll be able to fix it and I'm so sorry. " She came over and turned my head to the side again. "She'll know what to do, she'll fix it so...so you don't look like you have a mullet. I'll make sure you don't have to pay for this. Don't worry, she'll be right back, I'm positive." Then she walked away and left me alone.

I immediately thought of this:

At that moment, it didn't matter all of the nice things that she said to me, or that we laughed at each other's jokes. All that mattered was there I was, with something I really, really didn't want staring back at me in the mirror.

Lucy, the other hairdresser did eventually come back and after some careful re-cutting, I no longer looked like a time-warp from 1986. It wasn't the haircut I asked for but it wasn't bad, either.

As I walked out, I was reminded of what had happened with Joanne. It occurred to me that this salon girl made a mistake too, but she handled it better than I did. I'm sure that this will be a problem when she faced up to it, maybe she'll have to lose pay or even worse. She was better than me, because she owned up to it right away. She admitted her mistake and tried to get it fixed. She immediately told me that I wouldn't be paying for any of the fees for the haircut. Those things were both nice. They didn't stop the consequences, but they made me feel better, somehow.


The next day I sent Joanne a message, I asked if I could talk to her. She agreed, and I called her up. 

I told her, "I've done what I can to fix this. I messed up, and as a result I broke trust in you. I'm so sorry for what I put you thorough." I thought of the stylist, and how it felt to be on the other side of a mistake. I said, "You trusted me, and I let you down. I'm sure that I don't know all of the effects this had on you, but I know how it feels to be let down by someone. "

Maybe one day she'll forgive me, maybe not. She seemed to take it well, so I have hope.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Internet Blues

My good friend, who I respect and care about, posted a political joke on her Facebook page by 'liking' it. As a result, I saw it in my news feed. It clearly wasn't an invitation to a discussion, it was simply a hurtful thing said by folks from one political party about folks from another political party. 

I had feelings in all sorts of different directions when I read this; anger, sadness, and disgust to name a few. But my first coherent thought was "That's not funny".  My second thought was, "Do you really feel that way about me?"

After my friend posted this, I started to let it get to me. I thought, I won't forget this for a long time. I'll remember this when I see her at the grocery store, when her kids are at the school recital and I when we see each other at trick-or-treating or other local events. 

That's horrible! She made one statement online and suddenly the reasons I like and respect her go out the window. That's not a strong friendship, I thought, if it can be destroyed by one image. 

But then I had a different thought. I didn't choose to be friends with her because of her political affiliation, her religion or her stance on abortion law. I choose a person as a friend because we treated each other kindly, and respected each other. So what was really going on here?


When I first joined social media o-so-many years ago I made a joke at someone's expense. What I didn't realize was, that they also were able to see it. I never forgot that moment when I talked to the person later, in-real-life, and she asked me that same question, "Do you really feel that way about me?"

Of course it wasn't just a joke, right? It was an expression of a feeling I was having at one moment, based on the understanding that only certain people (people who understood how I felt, and agreed with me) were reading it. It was me saying something mean that I would never, never have said to her face.

I've seen a lot of this lately; this vitriol thrown about so that nobody can ignore it. It's as if we're going to work or school or bars or restaurants wearing our political parties on neon green t-shirts or tattooed to our foreheads. It feels like a very quiet act, when I like or share a post. But I know that to the person reading it the message has the volume turned all the way up. 


I wish I could go back in time and take back every re-tweet, share, like or comment on political stories in social media. But I can't undo what's been done.

What I can do is choose to try to have empathy for her. I'd rather assume she's just quietly saying "Hey, I like this". That maybe, just maybe, she didn't mean to shout at me.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Empathy at the Airport

The other day, I read a few stories about empathy at the airport (links below) and it got me thinking; isn't the airport a great place to grow our empathy, because it's full of people? It's a big concrete box bursting with human beings stuck together in one place for a limited time.

I'm amazed when I consider how many of us could be in the terminal simultaneously. If you are like me, then maybe you only go to the airport to get from point A to point B. We are the travelers; we are the families going to visit other families or if we are lucky, taking a vacation. We are the employees carrying laptops and going to business meetings.

I know that there are other people who love to fly. I see them posting online about their adventures. For these travel experts, I hear that it's simply a joy for them to move so fast and so far and to put their eyeballs and bodies out there in the cosmos.

I can imagine that there are other kinds of travelers that are going on a one-way trip. The guys who are using boarding passes and suitcases to say good-bye for the last time to their home and everything they've ever known, or the gals who are running to a new future in a new town, without looking back.

Rounding out this mass of humanity are the daily airport workers; our brothers and sisters whose alarm clocks and morning coffees are getting them to the big box every day. They are keeping the place moving and shaking by feeding us, cleaning up after us and speeding us on our way. Souls with hearts and minds and fingers and toes are working at the kiosks and cooking in the restaurants and cleaning the bathrooms. People are shunting us like cattle through the security machines or doing a pat-down, and maybe they love their jobs or maybe they don't. I can't leave out the pilots and co-pilots, the flight attendants and all of the other people for whom the airport is their daily commute. There must also be many people I never see or talk to; employees of the airlines and other businesses, the airport administrators, baggage handlers and air traffic controllers.

It's inspiring to have so many people all together in one building at one time. I see this structured system of commercial travel as an opportunity for us empathy builders, because more people means we've all got a higher probability to meet someone new and learn about an entirely different life. Are you going to the airport soon? Perhaps this is your chance to stretch your empathy muscles.

Here are some great airport stories for you to check out:

Here's my latest flying story. Please let me know your flying stories in the comments below, I'd love to hear them.


On a recent business trip, I was flying next to a man who had never been on an airplane in his life. He was older than me, at least in his fifties. I was busy and so we didn't talk until the plane was landing. He was in the middle leg of a three-flight trip, on his way to South Carolina. He wasn't flying direct, he said, because it was cheaper and he had the time to spare.

He told me he was happy, because he was on his way to see his son and 8 week-old grandson. He explained that the flight was a return trip - he had just finished moving everything he and his wife owned to Chicago. It was a long quiet drive on back roads with a big truck, and there were no good radio stations, but it was beautiful. I was confused, and said, "If your family is in Kentucky, why did you move to Chicago?" He told me that he can't stay in Kentucky anymore. He looked a little sad when he said it, like it was a very hard decision for him.

A few years ago, he said he had retired to take care of his wife. Now they were moving to a new town to support his daughter, who was in school in Chicago. He said, "She's in it for the long haul. She'll be spending the next five years studying and doing apprenticeships for her degree, and then once she gets her certification she'll need to look for a job. All of the jobs for her line of work are in Chicago. My son, though, has a career in South Carolina with his wife and family, and they just bought a new house. So I think I'll be flying back and forth for the next ten years, at least."

I looked in his eyes, which held both joy and fear. I said, "It sounds like you are the end of one journey, and the start of another."

He agreed. We were quiet until we disembarked.


Please tell us your stories!