Monday, February 27, 2017

Means and Motive

Today I was late to work.  This isn’t actually a common occurrence.  I’m usually on time or a few minutes early.  Today, there was just a perfect storm that ended up with me deciding to shower instead of coming to work with greasy hair, and clocking in at 6:38 instead of 6:30.

My coworker commented on my having supposed to be here at 6, instead of 6:30, to which I replied with a quip and moved on with my day.  Cue to 7:00 when my supervisor came in and said, “Did you get my texts?”  Texts?  Nope.  He pulled up my phone number in his phone only to find that it was a digit off, and the text he had sent me on Saturday had gone off into the nebulous of un-owned phone numbers and floated away, presumably to seek out strange new life and to go where no text message has gone before.

When I asked my coworker if my boss had told him that he texted the wrong number, his reply was something like, “Yeah, but you’re supposed to be here at 6:30 ready to go, not roll up at 6:35.”

You and I are smart enough to know that he’s not mad that I got here a few minutes late.  He’s mad that he was here at 6 and I wasn’t.  The difference in time is inconsequential.  But for 35 minutes, he had the luxury to sit in his loader and first wonder why I wasn’t at work yet, then become annoyed, and finally decide that I was a horrible person for not having been there when he was.

He made the assumption you or I would probably make in the same situation: that his coworker just slept in, and instead of hurrying to work and apologizing for being late, just came back with a snarky reply when called on the bad decision.

We all make bad decisions from time to time, but more commonly, we make decisions we believe are the best given the situation.  The reality is, I made it to work in record time today.  I thought about calling him, but believed that our usual start time of 6:30 stood, and that a few minutes wouldn’t make a difference.  Even had I known, as I walked out the door, that I needed to be at work early, the knowledge could not have gotten me there any earlier.

Let’s talk about another situation.  I pulled out of work to go get lunch one day, and rather than turning ahead of a vehicle that was up the road a little way, I waited for it to go first.  But as it approached my position, it slowed considerably, and considered to drive slowly.  When it got to the end of the road, where a left or right turn is the only option, the woman driving it angled to make a right-hand turn.

Cool, I thought, she’ll turn and I’ll be able to get out from behind her.  But as I watched, she sat for a long moment with no motion, and finally put on her left turn signal.


We sat for what felt like three or four minutes, myself unable to make a right turn because she was pulled so far over, while she missed opportunity after opportunity to turn.  Finally, I did the unthinkable.  I honked at her.

The driver flapped her hands in an angry gesture, which I returned with a poorly-chosen single-finger salute of my own, and she gunned it and finally turned left.  I turned right with a sigh of relief and was on my way.

While it’s probably fair to say that she and I both made poor decisions in that circumstance, my real problem isn’t with her; it’s with my own decisions, which started with my impatience when I got in my car.  For all I know, she may have been taking directions from a child in the back seat.  She may have felt nauseated or dizzy, and needed to sit still for a moment to prevent having an accident.  She may, it’s true, have just been a poor driver.

But I had decided she was driving inconsiderately and that inconsideration was intended specifically to prevent me from getting to lunch.  I decided that because, when I get in a car, I make it a point to know where I’m going and how to get there, and if I drive slowly and give wrong turn indications, it is with the express purpose of annoying the driver behind me.

See, we judge others based on our own motives.

Let me say that again.

We judge others based on our own motives.

When a jury is selected, it isn’t just random people who are called into a court room.  The candidates answer a series of questions, and based on their answers the prosecuting and defending lawyers discard individuals.  What they try to do is get as many people on the jury as possible who they feel will judge the motive of the accused sympathetically to their own position.

The outcome of a jury trial is decided when the jurors come to a consensus in their opinion about the means and motive of the accused.  We have different levels of murder in our legislation because, as people, we understand that there is a difference between a man who hunts down people with the express purpose of killing them and a man who causes a death by making a mistake while driving.

We understand this in a legal sense, but very rarely do we understand this in a personal sense.
When someone mistreats us or says something harsh to us, we most often judge them as harshly as possible.  Very rarely do we take into account that the last 24 hours of their life may have been miserable.  Almost never do we stop and ask them, “Why did you do or say that to me?”

While it’s true that my coworker hurt my feelings with his sharp retort, I am forced to consider that I could be perceived as having “started it” with my glib reply at 6:38 this morning.  While I might feel that the “right” thing would be for him to apologize to me, I know that the best thing would be for me to apologize to him.

That is, after all, what I would want if I were in his shoes.

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