When I was in college I worked as a pharmacy technician. The first step when a new prescription was brought in was to get the customer’s name, address, and phone number. If I already knew the person was a regular customer, I could bypass this step.
One day a gentleman came in, whom I didn’t recognize. When I asked for his information, he became angry and yelled at me. I don’t remember what he said or what I said in response. I didn’t know what to think…he was yelling at me for doing my job.
Fortunately, the pharmacist, who was also the store owner, was nearby and came to the counter to intervene. He calmed the man down, while I escaped back into the pharmacy.
Later in the day, after the man had received his prescription (not by me) and left…he came back. The pharmacist greeted him…but he asked to talk to me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was unprepared for what happened…
The man apologized.
He came back to the store because he wanted to apologize to me. He explained that when he had come in earlier, he and his wife had come from the doctor’s office—where they had just found out she had cancer.
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but what I’ve never forgotten are the lessons.
We never know where someone else is coming from or what they are dealing with.
In our quick-to-judge lives, we jump to conclusions. Before the apology, I’d probably decided the guy was a jerk, but he wasn’t. He was a man who was hurting. He had received overwhelming, difficult news and I just happened to be the one who caused him to release a little steam.
Years later, I still think about this. Often, when I encounter an unpleasant person I start to wonder what has happened to make her so angry. Maybe it’s just a bad day or maybe it’s much more. It doesn’t excuse nasty behavior, but sometimes it does help to explain it, even if I never know the situation.
At the very least, my experience does help me to not take someone else’s behavior personally.
Never be afraid to apologize.
The fact that the man came back to apologize meant more to me than he probably knew. Instead of ignoring what had happened, he took the humble step of coming back.
I doubt it was easy for him. In the midst of the bad news he’d received that day, he took responsibility for his behavior. Maybe it was the only thing he felt he could control that day.
I wish I could tell this man what he taught me, and how his example became a life lesson I still think about often.
Pay attention to what I’m dealing with and try not to project it on to others.
When this man came back to apologize, I was left with a very different impression than I had before he returned. Even if the encounter is only for a moment, it’s a moment that can last a lifetime. I don’t want to be the one who sours someone else’s day. But, if I am, I hope I can recognize it, take responsibility, and change that impression.
Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24 NLT)