I was walking down the street the other day and I saw a man working as a parking ticket officer. He was going about his daily job of issuing tickets to cars that had expired time on their meters.
Without realizing it, I had a feeling come about that made me think, “This guy is scum.”
Realizing right away that I didn’t even know him, I caught myself and wondered why that even came into my head. The answer came back to me that he was working for the city and penalizing people.
That’s when it got interesting…
I decided to play devil’s advocate and ask myself was it HIS fault that people hadn’t paid their parking fees? Clearly it was a lack of responsibility of each person to make sure that they paid the parking meter, otherwise they run the risk of being penalized for it. It’s pretty much a cut and dry situation, yet we all feel victimized when we don’t keep our end of the deal and then get hit with a 30 dollar penalty. We then blame the man who gave it to us instead of looking at our own lack of integrity.
This gave me a whole new perspective. I was able to take this man from being an asshole in my mind, to seeing that he was simply doing his job just like any other person I knew. I decided to ask him a question, so I approached him and said, “Are you happy?”
He looked at me and said, “Listen man, I’m just doing my job. Are you happy doing yours?”
I said, “Yes, I love what I do. Have a nice day.” With that, I walked away.
What happened there?
I asked him a simple generic question, and he assumed I was attacking him for doing his job. He became defensive and even asked me if I was happy doing my job.
Yet that wasn’t my question. I simply asked him if he was happy.
To change the context of the question, I imagined a different scenario. I imagined that he had just become a grandfather for the first time and he was sitting with his new born grandchild in his arms while seated in a rocking chair. If I asked him the exact same question, “Are you happy?” I would get a TOTALLY different feel for that question, yet it is word for word the exact same question I asked him while he was doing his job.
Yet there were two completely different reactions simply because of what he perceived my question to mean in the first place.
Then I thought to myself how many times have I done this in my life and continue to do daily, where I attach a defensive reaction to a simple question, rather than just answering it in the manner in which it was asked. What if I were to ask a simple question to clarify if I didn’t understand the meaning of the question, instead of being automatically defensive in my reaction so that I could answer it, and be properly understood?
What a difference that would make…
I imagine that this parking attendant is so defensive with many people yelling at him for what is basically their own oversight, that he is just geared for that reaction automatically.
Then, I looked into my own life and saw a lot of examples of how I do the exact same thing in my listening. I don’t listen to the question without being geared for the meaning I give it.
So my question is, where is that same scenario in your own life, and now that you are conscious of it, what kind of a difference can in make in your life?