Listen to the audio version of this post here.
Apparently, I was a bit naïve.
Way back in May of 2020, I was saying if we just gave each other a little grace, the free-floating crankiness out there would settle down. You might remember my very sound suggestions for clients, customers, and the companies who serve them.
Some businesses were beginning to reopen after the initial pandemic shutdown. And there were difficulties, summed up well by an ice cream shop owner. “People have forgotten how to treat other human beings in the six or seven weeks that they’ve been confined to their homes.”
Well, now it’s been a year and a half.
We’ve emerged from our homes for some activities in some places, retreated again in the face of a COVID surge, and come back out into the wider world with more opportunities to interact with other humans.
Which create more opportunities for corona-craziness.
Travelers act out on airplanes.
More than 100 incidents were serious enough to be reported to the FAA last week alone. So far this year passengers have threatened, spit at, and even hit airline employees at least 3600 times.
The Association of Flight Attendants says reported incidents include shoving, throwing trash, and “defiling” restrooms in reaction to airline instructions. Yuk.
Responding to the mayhem, flight attendants are getting self-defense training and tips from federal air marshals to de-escalate ugly situations.
You see news stories referring to “unruly passengers.” I say “unruly” is when a kindergartener acts up over having to take a nap. These grown adults threatening airline personnel and passengers are way beyond “unruly.” Aggressive, violent, and potentially criminal are better descriptions.
Maybe you heard about the confrontation between two congressmen.
In a spat over who’s sponsoring what legislation, Madison Cawthorn and David McKinley did everything but challenge each other to a duel at dawn.
“At one point,” Politico reports, “the conflict turned into a yelling match on the House floor filled with slights and suggestions of retaliation, according to four sources. One onlooker thought the two men’s floor altercation would devolve into a fistfight; it ended with Cawthorn taking a shot at McKinley as a career politician in an interview.”
And get this. Lest you think it’s all just inter-party squabbling, Cawthorn and McKinley are both Republicans!
In the partisan-palaver category, there was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the minority leader “a moron.” And Kevin McCarthy talking about getting the gavel when he becomes speaker … and using it to hit Pelosi.
Health officials are under attack.
In St. Louis, the crowd chanting “Trump 2024” objected to what the acting county health director said about the resurgence of COVID and the need for mitigation. By calling him a “fat brown bastard” and worse, and imitating Apu from “The Simpsons.”
Dr. Faisal Khan acknowledges that he responded to one of his tormenters with an upraised middle finger as he was shoulder-bumped and shoved trying to leave the meeting. He adds that, considering the racist vitriol hurled at him, he cannot say he’s sorry.
Anti-mask mayhem is spreading.
Protesters in Los Angeles screamed at strip-mall shoppers that masks are a scam and the vaccine against the coronavirus is killing people.
In Fort Lauderdale, they set masks on fire outside a school board meeting, yelling that face coverings are a symbol of tyranny and child abuse. The board finally canceled its discussion of mask requirements for the upcoming school year.
And the manager of a Florida big-box store told the New York Times she’s calling police two and three times a day to break up fights. “We’ve had shoppers go after each other,” she said. “Pushing matches, running carts into each other, running over people’s feet, ankles.”
Yikes! We’re seeing the same kind of thing in much of the country. And far from calming things down, government officials in many places are throwing fuel on the fire.
In that spring, 2020 look at the COVID-cantankerous, I offered this. Just breathe for a moment, deeply and fully. Ground yourself. And breathe.
Also, pause when you’re irked and try to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Yes, it’s challenging. And it can make a huge difference in the interaction.
And I recommended taking some action rather than just stewing over the situation, whether it’s short staff at your favorite restaurant, supply chain issues keeping you from the purchase you want to make, or confusion about when and how you’ll return to the office.
It seems a lot of people weren’t listening, doesn’t it? Looks to me like the ugliness has gotten worse instead of better. And maybe that was to be expected as stay-home suggestions and mask requirements came and went and came again.
I’m upping my game.
I noticed something in my own response to a post on my blog. I suggested we “assume positive intent on the part of people who are trying to do business under difficult circumstances.”
What if I assume positive intent on everybody’s part?
I mean everybody. Including the people parading around with signs about the evils of face-coverings. The ones blasting vaccines as some kind of wacky conspiracy. And even the ones who send me emails objecting to everything I write.
To tell you the truth, I’m not absolutely sure I have it in me. It’s so much easier, and (I can admit it) in a way more satisfying, to put a negative spin on all of it.
Don’t you think? When we ascribe hostile motives to people who see things differently, we can write them off. That’s less likely if I assume they have some reason for their point of view, even if I can’t agree with it.
Are you in?
Okay, we’re only two people and we might be swimming against the tide on this. It would be much better if politicians, pundits, and celebrities would stop throwing fuel on the fire and try assuming positive intent.
That doesn’t look likely at this point. So how about it? Add a comment below and let me know if you’re ready to be a drop in the bucket with me.
I am going to be re-entering the public schools, and I am anxious about providing speech therapy wearing a mask as well as dealing with pushback around the vaccine in yet another setting. The anger, self-righteousness and discounting of truth, is what I observe. To assume positive intent, is a mind bender if I ever saw one. However, as always, Catherine, you help me to see a different perspective and I will be a drop in the bucket with you.
Thanks, Lisa! We’re going to need all the drops we can get, looks like.
Masks would make speech therapy a challenge, for sure. Have you experimented with the ones that have a clear plastic window in them? I have a friend who brings them to all her meetings because of her hearing impairment. She needs to see lips!
I tried one; they’re a little uncomfortable. But maybe manageable for the length of a session.
I agree with not assuming hostile motives and I also agree that “unruly” is not the word for what is happening! People are frustrated with service at restaurants, resorts and hotels, and airlines. The root of the problem is that they are severely understaffed and people are taking it out on the employees who are actually working. A lot of grace needs to be given right now. Carol Kauffman wrote a great article, published in INC, where she asked the simple question, “who do I want to be right now?” I believe if people would stop and ask themselves that question in a moment of frustration they MAY think about their behavior.
That’s a great question to ask, Kim. Who DO I want to be? Not the person who throws a fit because service is slow or a product is unavailable. It is frustrating sometimes, but those glitches are almost never the fault of the person in front of me. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not at all just to blame them.
I’m also tired of hearing people blame unemployment benefits for the problem. So many people in hospitality and retail businesses were underpaid and mistreated to start with … no wonder they’re reluctant to go back to jobs that weren’t that satisfying to start with. And beyond-unruly customers have always been part of the problem.
Dear Catherine, Touché! Thank you for sharing your very poignant insights and your gift for the written (and spoken!) word. Count me in. I’m all for being a drop in the metaphorical bucket of positive intent. The spread of vitriol is disheartening and even scary. May the scale tip toward the goodness that (hopefully) lives within most of us. Sincerely, Julia
It is scary, Julia, mainly because I don’t see how it ends. Do we assume all those people spitting at servers and screaming at school board members will have some kind of epiphany? Seems unlikely to me. I guess that’s why it also seems important that the rest of us be more actively decent to people, to extend ourselves to spread good will and grace.
It is pretty damned hard to have a positive intent when children are getting sick and dying in ever increasing scary numbers. The response from Republican Governors such as ours in Tennessee to support legislation that will fully ban masks including schools. It seems to me that such horror spewing from government officials and politicians actually reflects criminal behavior that we are witnessing all around us. Are we feeling crazy or trauma?
I think there is an element of trauma to all this, Paula, and some of the way people seem to over-react may be their reaction to it all. I try to look at the anti-mask demonstrators at school board meetings and consider that they want what’s best for their children; they have a different idea from mine about what’s that “best” is. As for the politicians whipping up the furor, they seem cynical and calculating to me.
I agree with you about the reciprocal trauma/anger from parents on the no-mask position. From the view of Children’s Hospitals in MidSouth region, I cannot give credence to that position. It must not as critical in Chicago, but it is critical in Memphis, Little Rock, and Jackson. How can a community disregard the health of their children? I don’t understand
This is so tough, Paula. I’m trying to separate the position from the person.
So yes, I might give no credence to their position. My effort is to see them as, say, parents who want the best for their kids — even if my idea of what’s best is radically different. So far, I’m finding it challenging!
I think there are several reasons for some people’s reactions. When it first broke out and people started dying we got lies and denials from the people who were supposed to be in charge. Then it became political. I think people are dug in and became entrenched, and as we learn more about how this new virus works, they refuse to believe. I have absolutely no idea what the answer is.
Oh, I don’t have an answer either, Ronna. We’re in a big pickle and it’s getting worse with the resurgence of the virus and variants.
I don’t like the way I feel when I get caught up in judgement and opprobrium. So I’m trying to allow for the possibility that people who see things differently are all wanting the best outcome, and not yet agreeing on how to get it.
Dear Catherine, thank you for your insightful perspective. I was reminded of a William Wilberforce quote where he stated that one of his two great objectives was the “reformation of manners”. Treating others as we wish to be treated, civility and manners seems to have been forgotten in today’s society. Please add me to the bucket.
Oh Mary, I watched those people in Franklin, TN last night and I was ready to give up on humanity. You are so right about civility and manners. I’m not sure it’s possible to bring them back, but I’m glad you’re willing to try!