I had coordinated a 3-day field trip for people who love bird-watching. My husband Lee and I had helped lead groups to various locations around the Outer Banks.
We had 80 attendees, and everything had gone according to plan – lots of birds, good weather and friendly people.
After the tally on the last day – where we gather together and add up all the species seen – several people came up to me to thank me for a great weekend.
I was feeling pretty good until one woman approached me after the others had dispersed.
Everything about her body language screamed that she had strong negative feelings associated with what she was about to say.
“Meg” introduced herself and reminded me that she had registered for the trip via email a few weeks earlier. She was offended that, in my confirmation email, I had asked her if she was a member because her name was not on my copy of the membership roster.
She had replied with a caustic email saying she was a member and added a few other choice words. It turns out she had just paid her dues the week before, and she was quite annoyed that I didn't have the most current membership list to see that she had paid.
In my email response to that message, I apologized to her and even thanked her for setting me straight. I explained that my membership roster was 2 weeks old so I didn't have her name on my list.
But apparently that wasn't good enough.
She felt the need to continue the complaint in person.
I was taken aback and at a loss for words as I listened to her criticism of our process.
I couldn't imagine why anyone would get so upset over such a small thing. Why couldn't she let it go?
I can’t know that answer for sure, of course. But I can speculate, based on my decades of life on the planet interacting with other human beings...
When you don’t have strong self-esteem, it’s easy to take things personally.
You feel threatened by a perceived offense and react negatively. If you’re like Meg, your preferred mode is to verbally attack the other person.
It’s unfortunate, because this type of reaction only serves to damage relationships. Instead of drawing others to you so they can affirm your worth and value, they are repelled.
I feel sad for people like Meg because she chose to overlook the positives and focus on the negative. And then to dwell on those negatives for several days.
After all, this exchange of email messages had taken place weeks earlier.
The lessons I took away?
Be gracious when another person makes a mistake. You've made mistakes, too, and hope others won’t hold them against you indefinitely.
It’s unhealthy – mentally and physically – to allow negative emotions to dominate your way of being. Let go of perceived offenses as quickly as possible.
Don’t assume it’s about YOU. It probably isn't.
Every person you encounter has challenges and struggles. You can brighten their day…or cast a dark cloud over it. Your choice.
“Often we allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. We lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over grievances that, in a year's time, will be forgotten by us and by everybody. No, let us devote our life to worthwhile actions and feelings, to great thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings.”
- André Maurois, French author (1885-1967)