I tried out quite a few different types of jobs after high school as I figured what I didn’t want to be when I grew up. Before I discovered that I am a teacher, I tried my hand at being a bank teller. I had fun at that job because of the people I worked with, but I found it to be monotonous. Fortunately, I don’t have to ever worry about monotony as an elementary principal.
During my stint as a teller, there was one particular day when I decided to spice it up and do my hair a little differently. I got ready for my long 8-hours at the bank and headed into work. I knew my regular customers–the bristly ones, the kind ones, the funny ones, and so on. Shortly after the day began, one of those bristly customers came in.
This guy asked me to cash a check, and to make a long story short, bank policies would not allow me to cash it. He got frustrated with me after his attempts to persuade me to violate the policies failed. In his frustration, he said something that would make any insecure young lady cringe.
He told me that my hair looked horrible. Well…I’m not sure he said that exact word, it might have been a more colorful description, but this is a G-rated blog.
Ouch! I wanted to curl up in my little teller booth and disappear.
If only I knew then what I know now.
What that guy was telling me had NOTHING to do with my hair style. But, what was he saying to me when he made that comment about my hair?
I think he was saying, “I feel powerless right now. I need this money and I don’t think there is anything I can do to get it. I am going to try to regain some balance and power by insulting this young sensitive bank teller. Maybe I will feel better if I can make her cry.”
I find myself telling this story over and over as I work with adults and children alike to understand behavior. One component of understanding behavior is knowing that all we can ever get or give each other is information.
When someone insults me or says something mean in a half-joking way, typically it is saying more about how they feel about themselves than anything about me. I am not perfect and have many attributes worthy of insult, but people who feel good about themselves do not insult others. They may say things we don’t want to hear, but they try to do so in a helpful rather than hurtful way.
This truth applies to me too. Although I do a decent job of not saying or doing things to hurt others, sometimes I have a mean thought. Like I said, I am far from perfect. When I really look within, the thought is born from a place of jealousy, intimidation, or feelings of inadequacy. So, that mean thought is much more about how I feel about myself than it is about the other person.
Knowing that all we are ever giving each other is information helps me be a better person and hold myself accountable for my thoughts and actions. It also helps me depersonalize others’ hurtful behavior. Yes, an insult–even when framed as a “joke”–does cause me pain, especially initially. However, I can think through and rationalize the situation so the pain is not debilitating…so I don’t retaliate or act upon my emotions..so I can understand what that person is really telling me…and it is usually a lot about how they feel about themselves.
I dream of having a magic wand, one where I could just gently touch the shoulder of a hurting child to help him or her understand this. If children knew that bullies are saying that they feel bad about themselves, the bullies would have a very hard time getting the power they are after by preying on the weak.
This realization would help many adults too, especially when we we can make our lives look pretty perfect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Guess what? No one is perfect, everyone has struggles, and we may never know the deep pain that lies within those we envy.
Let’s all look at the “information” others provide to us with a different lens to understand what is really being said. At the same time, look within when callous thoughts or actions begin bubbling to your surface–what would your behavior say about how you feel about yourself?
- Dr. William Glasser, the late and great, taught this concept through his work in both Choice Theory and Reality Therapy.
- My two co-workers at the bank who rushed out during their lunch break to buy me a “Having a Bad Hair Day?” card that fateful day.