I’m sure almost all of us have heard the phrase
How many of us take it to heart on a daily basis?
How many of us base our reactions on the possibility that the other person may be facing a difficult battle of their own?
My job can present quite a challenge. For me, it is a constant reminder of societal issues like education, divorce, child abuse, poverty, domestic abuse and personal issues like patience, responsibility, faithfulness, honesty, truth, manipulation, anger, rage and sadness.
It's really is a blessing... in 2 specific ways.
It reminds me of how painful and discouraging the world can be when left to it's own devices and also reminds me of my responsibility as a Christian. Not only do I serve these folks for a pay check but I consistently need to remind myself that I also serve them because God's put me here to serve them in love.
It can be terribly frustrating most days trying to “keep my cool” in an environment that’s often quite heated. Typically, people are full of questions, full of anxiety, worry, anger and impatience. They are often waiting on money from their child’s other parent, taking off of work to come to court, trying to navigate court procedures and policies and communicate with many different parties all there to “help” them.
I know the process can be incredibly complicated and exasperating. And I am well aware of the tendencies of clients, attorneys and judges and court staff too. We all have our jobs to do and often times we end up having to "pass the buck" in order to accomplish our list of duties for the day. We know that it’s not an attempt to aggravate our clients but they don’t often seem to understand our workload, just as many of us don't have the time (or energy) to go in depth about what's going on with them.
Being the main point of contact for our aggravated and often irate clients can definitely take a toll though. I often bear the brunt of our clients' aggravation and rage and try to diffuse the situation as best I can. Caller after caller, conversation after conversation, I try to maintain my composure, a soft tone, answer questions politely, explain processes and offer up constructive advice.
Repeating to myself Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
...But sometimes I have to admit, I just want to scream (or beat the telephone receiver on my desk).
After all, it isn’t fair that people call me yelling or cursing. It’s not fair that I get blamed for other departments’ or co-worker’s poor or vague answers. It’s not fair that a caller’s attitude at the beginning of a call can determine what they hear from me and how they hear it. It’s not fair that people want to “take names”, insult me, and call me nasty names. It is very easy to be offended, angry and hurt.
The only think that keeps me going on rough days is this consistent thought:
....they must be having a really rough day.
The woman screaming on the other end of the line probably just spent the last 15 minutes waiting on hold and was on hold with another department for 15 minutes before that and spoke with a somewhat rude (and probably overworked) court member before that.
The man calling the system “corrupt” has probably been transferred from office to office and person to person, multiple times, without getting any definite answers, advice, or compassion. More than likely, no one has ever simply said, “I understand why you would be frustrated”.
The man asking for my name is probably just trying to be responsible. He's probably tracking who he's talking to and the information he’s getting because he has been told a million different things. I would do the same thing.
It’s definitely easier to say (and think about), than act on. …But that idea leads me to my next thought:
So how do I do outside the workplace?
I have to admit that when I’m in 'work mode’ I tend to assume less, I hold my tongue well… I try to offer a kind word or affirmation when something is done correctly. I try to be pleasant with co-workers, stay out of office gossip, promote teamwork and take up the slack when someone else is struggling. I try to put myself in other’s shoes when I’m talking with them and allow things to just “roll of my back” (as my Dad always says).
But in my personal life, things don’t tend to be so cut and dry. I do often take things personally, perhaps it’s because it’s my “personal” life.
I can make mountains out of molehills, take offense to actions (or lack of action) and take things personally that probably were simply said, or done in ignorance. I also tend to clam up at the slightest hint of emotional or mental danger and want to forget the part about being gentle or giving an answer at all.
*I think it's interesting that the verse specifically says a gentle answer... not... 'ignore what's happening'.*
Maybe it's because I feel as if I know the people around me, and therefore have been awarded the right to judge them or assume that I know or that they should know about me. In every instance, I have to step back (especially recently) and adjust my thinking.
I may not really know what the other person has experienced. I may not know the level of heartache they are dealing with or their level of "publicity" when it comes to handling their troubles
This has been on my heart a great deal recently as I have several friends and family members who have been going through trying times. Some are waiting for answers, some are mourning, some are dealing with disappointment and pain because of an answer they weren't ready to hear. Some are adjusting to life with new burdens, some have experienced loss and some are reliving experiences from their past.
It’s pretty hard to judge where someone really is when we don't have all the facts. ...and we rarely have all the facts.
So... I encourage you (as I continue to encourage myself) to keep being kind! Ask questions, listen, offer up praise and encouragement and don't fight anger with anger. Fight anger with gentleness, kindness and compassion.