In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells the following story as he rode the NY subway one Sunday morning:
“People were sitting quietly- some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes close. It was a calm, peaceful scene,” wrote Covey.
“Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.”
Covey continued, “The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.”
Covey goes onto acknowledge his feelings of irritation with the man, the children, and the situation. Finally Covey turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
Well, Covey’s question brought the man to what he called “a consciousness of the situation.” “Oh, you’re right,” the father replied. “I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Covey goes on to describe the change that came over him. “Suddenly,” he says, “I saw things differently, and because I saw things differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished… Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.”