When I was in my 20s, my fiancé died in a plane crash a few days before marriage. Not long after that, my son died of an undiagnosed, inoperable heart condition. Before these two events, when I called my dad to wish “happy Father’s Day,” I learned my healthy father had died from an unexpected heart attack.

As you might expect, these triple tragedies left me reeling.

The information above is true, but not the next part of this story.

Imagine that I’m your new coworker and you’ve come into my office and asked me for some information you need.

I respond, “I’ll get it to you.”

That’s not good enough for you, so you press me. You raise your voice and say, “I need it now!”

I’m doing my level best to hold it together, but my nerves are frayed. I’ve had enough and I take it out on you. I shriek, “Look, witch, get out of my office!” Hallway passersby hear me and wonder what you’ve done to elicit that reaction.

I realize I need to apologize to you and do so that next day.

You say, “it’s fine.”

As you might suspect, it’s never fine, not after I screamed at you and embarrassed you in front of passersbys.

Despite my triple tragedy, I didn’t shriek or cuss at those I worked with or for. I was also lucky enough that those I worked with knew my story.

But what if they hadn’t?

Would they have cut me slack? Been understanding?

Here’s my point: Many individuals we work with are hanging on their fingernails. They’re helping their kids all day long with schoolwork and then working as hard as they on their “real” jobs, so they don’t lose them.

They’re trying to stay engaged, but have had their pay or hours cut, and have seen their coworkers laid off, and wonder if they need to pull their own resumes together.

They’re worried about finances. About illnesses. Their kids push them to relax COVID protocols, resulting in daily arguments.

They’re cut off from their friends, family and former stress outlets like going to the gym or meeting friends after work for an early dinner.

If they’re business owners, they wonder how they can continue to meet employee pay expectations despite declining revenue.   

Just when the end seemed in sight with vaccinations available, they’ve heard the media reports concerning new COVID strains. To top it off, they’re heard that the weather disasters hitting the country may become commonplace due to climate change.

We need to cut each other slack. To understand. And to work together to fix what’s happening.

If you liked this post, I’d love you to add your thoughts. You also might like “Polarization,” https://workplacecoachblog.com/2021/02/6-steps-for-healing-our-polarized-divided-country/ and “Racism,” https://workplacecoachblog.com/2021/02/racism-in-the-workplace/.

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13 thoughts on “If You Knew the True Story

  1. Wow Lynne. You hit it out of the park again. First, I’m sorry about the losses you suffered. I know they’re in the past but the pain of losing those we love is never completely gone.

    Your point today really hit home. Yesterday I got a less than diplomatic email from Lillian, someone I didn’t know who was supposed to do my radio show today. She couldn’t make the recording date. No big deal. But the tone of her email was so rude I could literally feel my hackles rising. Later I had a conversation with Julia, Lillian’s partner, who had set up the recording schedule with me and I made it very clear I felt abused. Poor Julia. She apologized – although she had nothing wrong herself – and explained that Lillian was under a lot of work pressure. I still wasn’t happy. A couple of hours later I realized I was feeling more upset than I should be and when Lillian called me about rescheduling, we ended up having a very nice conversation and set another date.

    If I had just shrugged my shoulders at Lillian’s email and assumed there was a back story I didn’t know, I could have avoided my hurt feelings and an awkward conversation with Julia. I ended up the day emailing Julia an apology for my venting ,

    Thank you for the beautifully written reminder that no one is perfect and a little patience can prevent a lot of disagreements before they start.

  2. This is as great post asking for mercy and suggesting that you think beyond yourself and your hurts and worries when dealing with co=-workers and even with them snapping or being short with you because everyone is going through things–many of which they don’t want to talk about–all the time.

  3. During the holidays, Starbuck’s had a written message on a large easel at their entrance:

    “Today, you could be standing next to someone who is really trying their best not to fall apart. So, whatever you do today, do it with kindness in your heart.”

    The day after seeing that message, I was in line at the supermarket. I had exactly 10 items in my cart.

    The man behind me pointed to the sign: “This line is for 10 items or fewer,” and raged, “Can’t you read, lady?“

    My first impulse was to respond aggressively with, “Seems like you forgot to take your meds today.” Knowing that would not be prudent, I decided to practice what I preach and take the assertive route.

    I calmed myself with a deep breath and politely asked, “Sir, are you having a bad day today? The pandemic has been very stressful.”

    The poor fellow responded, “My parents both just passed away from Covid and I was rear-ended on the way here.”

    We really don’t know when the person next to us [boss, employee, colleague, stranger] is using every ounce of their energy not to fall apart.

    So, whatever you do today, do it with kindness in your heart.


  4. We are all under added stress during this pandemic and all want to return to the way things were a year ago. Take a deep breath, and always be kind to your fellow humans. Like Maya Angelou said, ‘Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud’, words I try to live by.

  5. When you live with empathy in your heart, you’ll find new friends every day. But nothing says it better than this:

  6. I once thought a village woman was being standoffish with me because she had more money than I did. I later found out she had lost several family members in a short period of time. One was her son, who committed suicide. People used the suicide to stereotype the woman negatively. As she figured out how to cope with her grief, she became friendlier. Instead of being standoffish, she offered me furniture when she remodeled her house. I learned long ago to always be positive with everyone, no matter how they are treating me. My positive words and actions have made life better for me many times.

    Condolences for your losses.

  7. Lynne – just reread your wonderful blog and the comments on it – and again felt uplifted and hopeful. Uplifted because your call for understanding and mercy appeals to our better angels and hopeful because clearly you’re not the only person who believes in this message. There’s always a back story and another side. I think if you start with the premise that most people mean well it gives you a running start on trying to keep an open mind.

    1. Sabrina, thank you! And if anyone’s reading Sabina’s comment & looking for a personal trainer who can find your physical soft spots & tweak them, you can’t do better than Sabrina:)

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