I was recently helping a friend of mine with a small construction project he was hired to do for a family in a nice neighborhood. We were working to repair a large bathroom window that had become rotted and damaged due to improper installation. As we worked, we realized (as is often the case) that there was more damage than we originally anticipated and that there would need to be a complete replacement of one of the windows. We told the woman of the house about the problem and, as you can imagine, she wasn’t thrilled. It was already a pretty costly project and the additional repair would probably cost another five to six hundred dollars.
While my friend was talking with her, the woman became increasingly frustrated and began to get a little “snippy.” Obviously she wasn’t planning on this extra expense but she began to take it out on us as if it was our fault. All the while I was thinking (in the words of a good friend of mine), “Don’t blame me, I didn’t write the mail. I just deliver it.” There was no way we could have known the exact nature of the problem before getting to that stage. I felt like we were a little stuck but I kept working as the woman made some calls to see about fixing her new problem.
Some moments later the woman explained that she was having an extremely difficult month. Her mother had recently had a surgery that had gone wrong and was going to have to have it over again; two of her children had recently broken their ankles around the same time; add to that the pressure of a home improvement/repair project and you have one stressed woman! After she explained her situation, it made perfect sense that she would have a little “meltdown” at the news of a bigger problem. This woman was completely overwhelmed by all kinds of things going on in her life and adding one more thing was a really big deal.
It got me thinking about a principle of relationships, particularly of conflict: there is always more going on than you know. As my good friend and pastor Dan Reiland says, if someone’s reaction to your feedback is disproportionate to the situation, there is always something bigger going on behind the scenes. Find out what that is and you’ll be surprised how your perspective changes.
So often we expect so much of people and are surprised by their behavior in individual situations. But what we often fail to do is remember that people are beat up, hurting, distracted, angry and confused by things going on in their lives. If you caught me on a REALLY bad day, I’m not sure my behavior would be anything to be proud of. It’s really important to remember that. We often view others based on their worst moments and maintain an image of self that is based on our personal best. That’s not how I would want people to view me, because I’ve had some pretty bad moments.
When we remember to meet people where they are, to remember their humanness and consider their complexity, we are living out Jesus’ command in the golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12).