Yesterday, I was basking in the glow of having just received an Amazon package with all sorts of delicious things in it: A wacom tablet, a Spanish edition of Don Quixote and accompanying dictionary, and my very own set of the Abhorsen trilogy. I was driving off from work in a very good mood, singing along to the radio and everything.
And then about ten minutes into my drive, I was stopped at a red light, behind a few other cars. I fleetingly notice a lady start to cross the street the next lane over, not in the crosswalk, but in between the cars. Dumb, but whatever, it's her life, I think. I'm completely stopped, and stare off at the light, waiting for it to change. Maybe my gaze strays somewhere, but I've always got my the light in the corner of my eye.
The lady crosses in front of me. She turn and I look at her. "Bitch," she mouths at me. "What?!" I mouth at her, totally flabbergasted as to why she did that. She then flips me off and pasts her butt at me, obviously really pissed about something.
*Pop* goes my good mood. What had I done? I wasn't rolling forward, I wasn't making faces, I think I have even stopped singing at this moment. I had done nothing at all connected with her other than glance at her, and she wasn't even looking at me then. Hell, I think I even made sure there was enough room for her in between my car and the one in front of me. It blows my mind to think that I could have so offended someone without meaning to.
I've had another situation this past year when someone I knew called me out on treating them as inferior, when I thought there had been mutual ambivalence. At least I knew this person, though. Am I just oblivious? Or are both of these people self-absorbed?
When I make mistakes, it's not like I aim that at people. Do people think I try to hurt them? I consider myself to be pretty nice on the whole, and before these two incidences, I felt like I had a good gauge on how people feel about me. When I say or do offensive things, I usually know it or have a good guess as to what was offensive, regardless of intent. So it weirds me out when there's a mismatch.
It makes sense that people focus on themselves, that they rarely put themselves in other's shoes. Everyone thinks about how a comment that was just made relates to them, it's how we're trained to think. Joe just said he hates trains. Golly, I have this great story where trains are featured as evil. Let me tell it to gain his approval! That could be one train *cough* of thought. Another could go more like this: Joe just said he hates trains. Didn't he know my dad was a train engineer? I told him that like two months ago at Bill's party. Ugh, that's really low. I love trains. How could he not know that? He must be trying to get at me for not hanging out with him last week when I had to work late. There are lots of possible reactions. In reality, Joe might just be making conversation, or might be trying to hit on the girl standing next to him who had previously said that she has a fear of trains--that is, right before you walked up. Not everything has an ulterior motive, and not everything has to do with you. Or me. Or Joe. Or the girl with siderodromophobia.
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Like the lady crossing the street--she was probably having a pretty bad day. That said, I like also assume that people aren't intentionally mean, which sometime they are. Sometimes Joe might actually hate me. But it doesn't matter, cause I should treat him like he doesn't. As long as they aren't taking advantage of me, I want to play it nice. Doesn't mean that I always do, but that's the goal.