Everyone’s mouth dropped open at the rude comment made to the receptionist by the higher ranking female employee. The receptionist was a plain, quiet woman, not dressed very well, who went studiously about her work and tried to be friendly to everyone, though she never quite fit in at the office among her wealthy coworkers.
Shock registered on their faces as they watched to see how the woman would respond. She didn’t. She turned and walked quietly back to her desk and resumed her duties. After exchanging their best “can you believe she just said that?” looks, they also returned to theirs.
The next morning dawned a cool, crisp fall day and employees were bustling into the busy office when the receptionist walked in and put her purse away. An older woman looked curiously at the beautiful cellophane wrapped mug of assorted chocolates and candies in her hand. It was brightly decorated with cheerful spirals of ribbon. She wrote something on a small card and attached it with another ribbon curl.
“Whose birthday is it?” the older woman asked.
“No one’s,” the receptionist replied.
"Who’s the candy mug for?" the woman asked.
"It’s for Cathy," she answered.
“If I were you, I don’t think I’d feel like giving Cathy anything after what she said to you yesterday,” the older woman said in surprise.
“It’s not really about what I feel like doing,” the receptionist replied quietly. Then she turned and walked off to place the mug on Cathy’s desk.
It would have been easy to retaliate against the woman for her remark. She was the receptionist and answered the phones, after all. She could have done petty, spiteful things like lost important messages from prospective buyers or left callers on hold. She could have given her hateful looks whenever she encountered her in the office, or gossiped about her to others.
But the woman was much wiser than that. She knew that conflict fed was conflict that would never die. That kind of reaction was both immature and petty. And that was not the kind of person she wished to become.
How often do you get the chance to become offended at someone, to take something they said to the very depth of your soul and feel hurt and misjudged, angry or bitter? How often do you retaliate? Have you ever tried simply walking away? Have you ever tried returning an act of hostility with an act of kindness or generosity and seeing what could happen?
It has been said that you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.
It has been said that 90% of the time someone offends you or hurts your feelings they didn’t intend to do it. So 90% of the time we take something the wrong way, that person didn’t even mean to cause us pain. Is it really worth it to start a small war in the work place, in the neighborhood, in your home, considering those statistics? Is it worth weeks or months of tension and conflict even if they did mean to do it?
Occasionally, conflict and confrontation are necessary. Sometimes people must be confronted with truth in order to bring change. But very often, someone is simply in a bad mood, has an attitude of superiority, is suffering difficulties in their personal life, or they just got up on the wrong side of the bed and it frankly isn’t worth feeding the fire over.
Because a fire that is continuously fed never goes out.
Though they never became close friends, Cathy was never rude to the receptionist again after that day. Just one gesture of sweetness and generosity tied with a ribboned card that read “I hope you have a really nice day” stopped conflict in its tracks.
“Life is a slow journey of becoming the people we choose to be.”
– Gary Chapman
This is a true story, though names have been changed to protect the guilty. Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers - Vol. 1
Related Text Illustrations
Contributed by Fr Mund Cargill Thompson on Mar 2, 2016
Shame: I am a bad person. If other people knew what I was like they would despise me. I must save face. versus Guilt: I am a person who has done bad things. Can I make amends? Can I be forgiven? Which do you feel? How does it make you feel towards others?