How often do you say, “What an idiot?”
I was first in line to go through the security station at my gate in the airport in Amsterdam. Before I could get to the conveyor belt, an airline employee took my passport and told me to go to one of the tables. I obeyed.
There were three pedestals but nobody stood behind them, so I walked straight over to plastic bins at the conveyor belt and started sorting out my belongings. Both the woman who had my passport and another man yelled at me. I looked back to see them pointing at one of the empty pedestals.
The man laughed at me and said, “She should sell your passport.”
The woman then asked in a mocking tone, “What were you thinking?”
Obviously, I was more of a source of amusement to them than a threat. There were five security agents around the conveyor belt and the brand new “puffer” machine. Had the airline employees considered my perspective, that I just might have thought they were indicating I should go through security instead of standing at an unmanned pedestal, then we might have had a more pleasant experience.
It’s true I could have stopped and asked for clarification when I didn’t see what I would call a table. I am guilty of making quick decisions based on the information I have, which is typical high-achieving behavior. Since I didn’t see a table, I marched onward not thinking to ask for help. Taking in all sides of the story, this was a clear case by all involved of passing judgment on someone’s intelligence without all the facts.
How many times do you judge people’s behavior before seeing from their perspective? How often do you expect people to do things your way without realizing they were operating from a different set of directions or assumptions? Then you think, “What were they thinking?” and you even laugh at their lapse in reasoning without realizing that their line of reasoning was different from yours.
I know I’m guilty of judging before really looking at what other viewpoints are possible. This incident reminded me that 1) seeking to understand another’s perspective and 2) trying to see if I can be helpful is much better than thinking someone is an idiot.
We often talk about knee-jerk reactions being about anger and fear. I think we also have a spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction to people who do something we don’t expect. The instant reaction creates the thought, “What an idiot.” I challenge you to notice the next time this thought pops into your brain. Is the person really stupid or could they just be seeing things differently than you?
While passing through the new puffer machine, the ones installed since the Underwear Bomber incident at Christmas, I wondered what behavior would indicate a true breach in the security procedures. Yes, we need to identify the real bullies, extremists and idiots. And we need to distinguish the average person who is just trying to do their best from the true problems.
It’s time to put the realm of possibility into our judgments and shift to feelings of respect for people who just have a different, harmless perspective from our own.
At least, that’s what I’m working on when I try not to use the “idiot” word when thinking about the airport employees who laughed at me.