To Bite One’s Tongue: A Fresh Look at Dignity and Grace

September 23, 2016

From the desk of Tyler Hall — owner of JustTulsa.com — enjoys fishing, woodworking, and writing about fun things to do in Tulsa.

During a recent visit to Target, I stood in the check-out line and watched as a young mother unloaded items for the cashier to scan. It was obvious that she was in a bit of a hurry. While her baby seemed to effortlessly sleep through the dull roar of the store’s check-out area, the mother became even more agitated when the cashier scanned her credit card, only to read the message “Card declined.” on her computer screen.

As tears welled up in the mother’s eyes, she paused to think for a second. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m just not going to be able to buy any of this,” and started putting her card back in her wallet.

An older gentleman — standing in line between the mother and me — stepped forward and generously volunteered to cover her grocery bill. After all, it wasn’t even $50.

He smiled warmly at her, but her reaction was one of embarrassment.

She became defensive — almost sneering — and scolded the gentleman, telling him sarcastically that she appreciated his generosity, but she didn’t need his help.

Normally, I would have at least made a confused face at her behavior, but in no less time than it took me to think how rude her response seemed, she and her baby were gone and out the door.

The gentleman who offered to foot the bill for her purchase turned to me and smiled gently, again, and began unloading his own items to be scanned. “That was weird…” I said, with a sprinkling of disdain in my own voice. He smiled more. “That wasn’t right.” I said, now a little uncomfortable.

“Oh, it’s okay,” he replied in a nonchalant tone, “I’d probably have done the same thing. There’s no telling what kind of day or week or month she’s had.”

And that was it. The gentleman paid for his groceries, thanked the cashier, and nodded my way with a silent goodbye.

Sometimes, I see something like this happen and I can’t stop thinking about it for a day or two. While the young mother was clearly distressed about something, any bystander could have chided her response to the kind stranger. However, the kind stranger himself even passed on that.

I kept thinking about the gentleman’s reaction.

In the era of road rage and internet flame wars, it easy to tell someone how the cow ate the cabbage when they don’t agree with us or when they judge us. Behind a keyboard, potential repercussions are at their most minimal. This confrontational attitude has trickled down into day-to-day living and personal interactions.

If you verbally rip someone apart for their bad behavior, it soothes the mind, temporarily — as if you did a special favor for society — but the person’s ego is injured from it. All bets are now off. They will resent you, making your dealings with them needlessly difficult.

If you take the self-confident, but humble, approach when dealing with people — like the grace that the older gentleman showed when the young mother lost her cool — you’ll have avoided making their life more difficult and you’ve lost nothing.

Difficult circumstances are just like the situation I saw unfold at Target; when that situation begins to come unraveled, it’s a smarter choice to err on the side of grace, minimize our complaints and critiques, and press on as we had been.

 

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