Last week, I volunteered as a member of my Rotary Club to collect money for parking at the annual Linn County Horse Fair and Expo. I was a little surprised at how cheerful most people were as they forked over their $4 for the privilege of parking; and I had some nice, brief conversations with a number of visitors. The conversation I remember best, however, was an encounter with an older man who can only be described as crabby.
My antagonist drove up and wanted to know what was going on at the fairgrounds, so I explained that there was a horse show and that it cost $4 to park. My response was clearly inadequate because the fellow then angrily wanted to know what was going on the next day. I had a schedule and read the list of events for Saturday and again managed to anger the guy. He realized eventually that the only thing he would see that weekend at the fairgrounds were horses, which prompted him to drive off after angrily declaring he wouldn’t pay 37¢ to see a bunch of horses.
I have often told my wife to get rid of me if I ever become a grumpy old man who only sees the worst in people and the world around me. I realize that who I become in old age, assuming I get there, may be beyond my control. I have been blessed with good health, a good job, a great family, and many friends who enrich my life. It’s easy to be optimistic when things are going well, and it may be much less so when the pillars supporting your world view start to crumble. The scariest scenario for me is the loss of mental faculties plus the confusion and anger that change engenders.
My initial reaction to the visitor at the fairgrounds was a little anger of my own, followed by some amusement over his seemingly irrational anger. The more I thought about the encounter, the more I realized how little I knew about his situation and what was causing his animosity. I’m not sure I would or could have done anything differently, but I was reminded of the importance of considering the other person’s point of view when serving the public. We can escalate negative situations by responding in kind to angry people, or we can help maintain peace by making a commitment to remain the person we want to be, regardless of the provocation to retaliate.
The angry horse-hater left the fairgrounds parking lot with a “thank you” and a slightly better attitude (I think) because he was treated with respect even when he’d done nothing to earn it. Others have helped me in a similar way throughout my life, and I hope I am able to pass along that example in my work at the City and in my personal life. Crabby people are probably feeling that way for a reason, and we will almost certainly have an opportunity before long to brighten their outlook.