I was standing across the counter from the lady at the hole-in-the-wall dry cleaners and I was getting irritated. She had lost my pants and I was sure of it.
The woman kept insisting that I hadn’t dropped them off with my suit jacket.
“Ma’am, I wouldn’t have just brought in a suit jacket,” I said. “Can’t you just check to see if there are some navy blue pants lying around somewhere?”
She grew more defensive and said that she was positive I didn’t bring in any pants because she always double checks people’s orders.
She probably loses people’s clothes all the time, I thought.
She went to check one more time and I stopped and thought through the last time I had seen them. When she returned empty-handed, I had an idea.
“Hold on a second,” I said nervously. “I need to call my wife.”
I called my wife and asked her to look in the drawer where I normally put the dirty dry cleaning. Then I waited. My wife got back on the phone.
“Yeah, you’ve got some navy blue pants in here,” she said.
I got off the phone and sheepishly said, “Ma’am, I’m really sorry. They’re at my house.”
It’s not the first time I’ve unjustly made negative assumptions though.
There was the time I got annoyed with the barista who ignored me when I spoke to him from behind. When he finally turned around and started talking, I realized he was deaf.
There was also the time I thought my coworker was nuts because she screamed when I abruptly came around the corner. It turned out that she was a crime victim and the perpetrator had just been released from prison.
And let’s not forget how remarkably rude the cashier was on Christmas Eve at the Hallmark store. It was so bad that when I came back in a couple of months later, I mentioned it to the manager. Her polite response caught me off guard.
“I know exactly who you’re talking about, sir, and I’ll just say this: You never know what people are going through.”
She was right. I didn’t have any idea, yet I’m still prone to give myself permission to read people’s minds, project motives and make assumptions with very little information.
James 1:19 says, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” But in moments when we’re convinced we’re right, we do just the opposite: We’re slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to get angry. And when we do that, it says a lot more about us than the person we’re judging.
We apparently think we don’t need to slow down and check our assumptions. We’re so wise and knowledgeable that we’re unwilling to give the thing we need: a little bit of grace, which people need regardless of whether our assumptions are right.
I once had a coworker who was always ascribing wrong motives to people and it irritated me. Finally one day I said, “You know what? I bet that nine out of ten times you’re right about people’s motives. But the one time out of ten you’re wrong makes it not worth it.”
It’s some pretty good advice, if I don’t say so myself. Maybe one day I’ll start taking it.