Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Creatures of habit

We’re all creatures of habit regarding one thing or another, right? We can repeat the same behavior for months, years even, without a second thought until something unusual happens. My father had one of those habit-altering events recently.

Like many of us, my dad is a creature of habit regarding his morning routine. He goes to Wendy’s for breakfast every day. He goes there because the coffee is free and his oatmeal bar is only a dollar. If he had to spend more than $1.07 on breakfast, he would be devastated! (only a slight exaggeration)
Yesterday morning really threw off his routine. Wendy’s was closed at 7:00am. They were closed because of a power surge or something like that. I laughed when he told me about it because their service is always terrible. They often don’t even have coffee during the breakfast hours, which is the bare minimum of service at that hour, don’t you think?

Anyway, yesterday my dad had to go to McDonald’s instead. His bill was $1.67, and he learned something valuable for that additional $.60.

As he dined in a section away from the front registers and employees, my dad saw a man ride up to the restaurant on his bicycle and park it near the back entrance. The man looked to be around sixty years old, was wearing torn shorts and a t-shirt, and was sweaty from the ride. He came inside and stopped at the trash receptacles near the door, then stuck his hand inside and pulled out a large soda cup. The man took the used cup into the restroom where he must have rinsed it out. He emerged from the restroom and filled the used cup with a beverage at the self-service counter.
At first my dad was outraged. Well, that is an exaggeration. He was miffed. Who would take a used cup from the trash? As my dad watched the man gulp his drink then leave, his view changed.

The man was not trying to rip off McDonald’s. He did not have a sense of entitlement. He was struggling. And, he was thirsty.
My dad’s view of the man changed as he watched him. My view of the man changed as my dad told the story too. I was less than sympathetic at first. I jumped to conclusions about the man based on two things: he stuck his hand in the trash and refilled a used cup. Did you jump the way I did? You probably also realized the point isn’t that the man used a cup from the trash but that he was thirsty.

How often do we jump to the wrong conclusions about people and judge them negatively?
My dad realized his tendency to do that when his daily routine was broken up. It got my attention when I heard the story. Hopefully it hits home with a few more folks who hear it too. Perhaps we all could benefit from breaking a few of our own habits and seeing people differently.