Madeleine Eames

- Psychotherapist
- Mindfulness Teacher

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The Very First Thing to do with Difficult People

 

We all have them… ‘those’ people that you run across in your otherwise peaceful path that for no reason at all, make your life difficult. They can be rude, indifferent or downright aggressive.

 

Travelling recently I found myself staying in one location for a full week. As I always do, I found a coffee shop that I could regularly frequent as then I get to know the employees as I make myself comfortable.

 

I entered and ordered from a barista who could not have made it any more clear that I was the last person she wanted to see today. She was prickly, with quick movements, occasional grunts and no eye contact. 

I quickly got out of her space and collected my drink along with my harsh judgements of her, her personality, everything I would like to tell her about conducting business with customers, and a few less-than-desirable adjectives. How could she treat customers this way first thing in the morning? What have I done to her? I took it personally and yet was helpless to do anything about it.

 

As I sat, fuming and watching her treat subesquent customers much the same, her cell phone rang and she answered it. That’s right! She answered a personal call with a long line of customers! Needless to say I was off my rocker by now with judgement.

I watched as I am a student of human behaviour. After a few loud words she put down the phone with tears in her eyes and I strained to hear as she murmured to her co-worker ‘Kid won’t go to school since his Dad left’. 

 

In a flash I got it. My judgement melted as I considered her experience as a now single mother, working at a coffee shop with a boy at home that she was frustrated and worried about. I got tears in my eyes as I also remembered what it is like to feel alone, to worry about your kids, to be frustrated and helpless and fear their future. 

 

“Be kind to those that are unkind. They need it the most.”  The Dalai Lama

 

We can all empathize with almost every feeling of another. Inside we are all the same, we feel the same feelings as we breathe the same air. The last thing she needed was my judgment. The antidote to judgement is empathy.

 

My judgment hurt me as much as her. It divides and separates us, thinking one is better than the other and this self-righteousness is a happiness-killer. 

 

But I never went back. Empathy doesn’t mean that we tolerate, accept or invite them for dinner.

 

Difficult people don’t set out to be difficult. We don’t naturally seek to be rude, condescending, arrogant or aggressive. There is always something behind it. The next time you run into ‘those’ people, remember you are just as vulnerable and well-defended as them, perhaps in different ways. Find yourself indignant and judgy?

 

Try empathy first. Then decide your next step.

 

To all those mothers who worry endlessly about their kids, I salute you.

 

Lots of love,

Madeleine

 

 

 

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