In a previous career, when a management person called a meeting for less than half an hour (and sometimes less than 15 minutes) after the meeting request went out, it meant that someone had been let go. They wanted to break the news to us before security showed up with a cardboard box to the not-invited ex-coworker’s desk. It happened enough times at that job that when those kinds of emails arrived, we got conditioned to look at the invite list to see who wasn’t there, and we all knew and felt kind of shell-shocked before the meeting even started. It was a pretty awful way to look at meeting invites. When those kind of happens-real-soon meeting invites arrive at (current) job, I still scan the attendees list. The brainwashing at (former) employer was just that entrenched. Boooo.
It made going to town halls at (former) employer kind of sucky too. I’d look at a guy who had a shockingly large golden parachute whether our (former) company succeeded or failed, so he was always chipper at those meetings. I still showed up snarky and doubtful of anything he deigned to share with the lowly workers. And he did talk down to us *a lot*. I didn’t know anyone who spoke at those meetings other than as a name on a work hierarchy chart, so why would my default attitude bet to doubt everyone’s sincerity? Crappy moods tend to be hugely contagious.
Lately, I have been trending toward thinking the worst in a situation. Because I know that surprise meetings aren’t always bad news – I mean, at (current) dayjob, anyway. We’ve been called to get good news far, far more often than bad. And I know a random email from someone doesn’t always mean that someone wants something from me. Still, I default to the Glass-Half-Empty feeling of dread.
When Child was in high-school, his principal called his classroom and asked Child to come to his office at lunch. Child had no idea what it was about, so he sat there worrying about it for an hour. He couldn’t think of anything untoward that he’d done, but you never know. Turns out, he had been nominated and received a Beacon of Hope award to recognize his contributions to his community. Definitely a good thing. And I have plenty of similar stories – called to a meeting room because a project we proposed got executive sponsorship, called to a meeting room because a contract coworker accepted a full time offer… It’s not like I don’t have good happens-real-soon meeting invites with good outcomes to temper the brainwashing/gaslighting experiences of my (former) workplace. How great would it be if our default reaction was excitement for good news instead of the dread of the (former) job’s threat of layoffs always hanging over us?
It’s kind of overflowed into non-work aspects more often than I’d like. At a highway rest stop last week, two women working at a food service vendor were clearly annoyed at each other, but were trying (not successfully) to hide it from the customers they were serving. Afterwards, in the car, I thought about those two, and wondered whether this was an ongoing passive-aggressive battle about taking breaks and shifts ending and whether there was enough lettuce to last through the afternoon, or whether today was just a rough day for one of them and the other took it personally. Because seriously, how often do we leave interactions with people thinking “She didn’t smile back at me, what’s her problem?“, when really, she just was in dire need of a Snickers. Or, worse, “Fine. If Mr. Gentleman Associate doesn’t want to talk to me, then I’m done starting every bloody conversation. I’ll just stop talking to him too!” when really, he’s just an introvert who doesn’t sleep well and is tired and just doesn’t have anything he wants to talk about after a long day full of his own responsibilities.
A while back, I read a blog post on The Book of Life about how it would be helpful if we gave people the benefit of the doubt – that their mood isn’t about us:
“When [babies] cry, we don’t accuse them of being mean or self-pitying. When they hit or kick, we assume they must just be frightened or momentarily vexed. We are constantly aware of just how much the workings of hunger, a tricky digestive tract or a lack of sleep may affect human character.”
When my alarm goes off in the morning, Louie watches me get up, go to the bathroom for a shower, and go back to my room to get dressed. Mornings are hard, but he comes to see me, tail wagging, welcoming me to the day. I snap an article of clothing at him, and the game is afoot. He brings me a toy and bows down in that playful dog pose. On his watch, all cups are full.
This Lent, I will look at my glass more thoughtfully. I will avoid being the part of anyone’s day that siphons off their optimism, no matter how my day is going. This Lent, may I take my example from the dog who is always ready to add to our cup.