I was recently in one of my favorite health food stores at lunch time, looking for something quick to take on the go. They have an awesome organic salad bar and fresh soups that are so yummy, I often dream about them (my favorite is vegetable dumpling!) So while I was walking around checking out the offerings of the day, I noticed a lady that was getting the soup I was interested in. I asked her with a smile, “Is that hot?” because sometimes when they bring out a new pot, it’s lukewarm and you need to heat it up a little.
I was being friendly–just making conversation, trying to make up my mind about what I was going to get. Her response was: “How should I know, I can’t feel anything through the cardboard!” I was a little taken back by her response, but I continued with a laugh “Oh, I’m sorry to bother you, I was just curious. You actually can feel the heat through the cardboard” and extended my hand to touch it quickly (my first mistake). She immediately recoiled in horror and started raising her voice at me: “I don’t work here! Why don’t you ask someone that works here!”
In shock, I quickly tried to get away from her. Clearly this was someone that didn’t want to be talked to and I totally get that. I changed my location to the other side of the salad bar to end the whole interaction. But apparently my new friend wasn’t done with me.
She proceeded to yell at the person behind the juice bar, “Hey this lady keeps bugging me about the soup, but I told her I don’t work here. You work here–is it hot? Please tell her so she stops bugging me.” I couldn’t resist a rebuttal from across the salad bar (my second mistake) “I’m a grown adult and can ask for help if I need it, thank you. You’re being really rude, please leave me alone.”
I wanted to be kind, but I was feeling so bullied; and I’m embarrassed to say I was shaking. What did I do other than start a friendly conversation? I felt like she attacked me for asking a simple question. I realize this may not seem like a heavily involved exchange, but at the time, her nastiness made the hair on my neck stand up. How was making me feel stupid helping her?
And then I remembered something I read in The Four Agreements: it’s not about me. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the receiver of something that had nothing to do with me. She was working something out and I was in the line of fire.
It wasn’t personal.
As soon as I was reminded of this, I calmed down a bit.
The employee went over to the soup and felt the pot–he declared that it was ‘adequately hot’. The crazy lady started chatting to him about how she didn’t understand why I didn’t just ask him to begin with and reiterated again, that she didn’t work there. Ok, lady. We got it.
I took my time getting to the register to avoid another exchange with her and overheard her lecturing someone on line about a product that was recalled. She wanted to know how it could still be in the store! It was then that I realized that she probably just really needed a hug. I flipped my thinking just then and wished her well in my heart. She clearly wasn’t a happy person.
We all have bad days, I know. This experience was a good reminder that just because people react towards me in a certain way doesn’t mean I have to engage. There’s always a choice to be made–as long as I stay true to myself and remember not to take things personally, I can’t go wrong.