I confess, I will read the collections of stories about, for instance, the worst customer a food-service employee ever had. Then I’ll read one about the worst service anyone ever got from a waiter or waitress. And I find myself wondering, maybe these are just the same stories told from two different perspectives. Maybe they are equally insensitive, equally impatient, equally self-involved.
There is always another side to the story. It isn’t always exculpatory — and it certainly doesn’t excuse sinful behavior. But there is always, always, another side. And trying to appreciate that side is an excellent exercise in sympathy and patience — whether we have a detached perspective or whether we are right in the middle of the freakshow.
Maybe the “idiot” who cut you off in traffic is trying to get to his mother who was just checked into the ER. Maybe the “slacker” on his phone instead of checking on your food order is telling his district manager about an abusive situation at work. Maybe the “incompetent” mom is a foster parent, trying to rescue a child from years of neglect.
Or maybe not. The point is, you can’t tell. You don’t have the whole story, and you probably never will. Would you have taken Paul’s side or Barnabas’ during their dispute in Antioch (Acts 15:36-40)? Who knows? Both probably had defensible points of view. We just don’t have enough information to make a judgment. So we shouldn’t.
I’m trying to assume the best of complete strangers these days. I’m aware they generally don’t deserve it. (Is “rarely” too mean?) But even if they don’t, it doesn’t hurt me to exercise some patience. Like most exercises in my life these days, I could do with more.