I've written a few posts now about what I call the Best Self/Worst Self Scenario, and a few weeks ago I had an experience that really drove it home to me.
I was at a large fabric store with my 2-year-old daughter, waiting in a loooong line to get fabric cut. She was grumpy and I was trying to entertain her with one of the animal-sounds apps on my phone, but she got frustrated and threw it on the floor. That, of course, was the end of her getting to play with my phone, which inevitably led to her throwing a fit. After a minute she wasn't really screaming and yelling anymore, but she was still doing that "I'm just going to keep crying because I still want my way even though I probably don't remember what I'm mad about" cry, which I'm sure any of you parents of young children know all too well. At that point, honestly, I was completely tuning her out. I was still trying to soothe her, but my brain was definitely more involved in the sewing project I had planned.
A couple minutes after that it was finally my turn at the cutting counter. As the lady was cutting my fabric, a middle-aged woman approached the counter and started demanding (loudly) that I do something about my screaming baby, saying that it was upsetting people and that I should leave the store immediately. I don't even remember what I said, just something like, "I'm sorry, I really am doing the best I can." Before I even really had time to register anything but shock, she turned and stormed away. As she passed a man a few feet away, he said loudly "She's not bothering me!" And then every customer and employee within 15 feet jumped to my defense, saying how awful she was for being so mean and how great I was for not getting angry back at her and that I was right not to give in to Eliza's tantrum and that she really wasn't upsetting anyone. I really did appreciate the kind things they said, but of course I was embarrassed and I really did want to get out of there as quickly as possible. One lady even chased me up to the cash register to tell me I was doing a great job as a mom, and another found me in the parking lot.
But I didn't feel like the hero of the situation. I really was tuning Eliza's crying out instead of being considerate of others. I'm sure I could have done more to settle her down, but I was tired and stressed. As for the customer who got angry at me, who knows what her situation might be? Maybe she was tired and stressed, too. I thought about my grandma, who had a nervous condition that was great exascerbated by constant, grating noise like crying. Whatever the reason, obviously that woman was not having a Best Self moment when she lit into me. But I wasn't, either. I wasn't a saint for not getting angry back. Mostly I just didn't have time to be anything but surprised. The people who went out of their way to come to my defense? I think they were having a Best Self moment -- reaching out to give comfort to a stranger. Most of them were older (or shall we say, more experienced) moms who, I think, saw their younger selves in me. But I hope someone was also around to reach out to the other woman as well.
So there we all were, a bunch of imperfect people, all at different places on the Best Self/Worst Self sliding scale that day. I was really glad that most of the people in the store were understanding and forgiving of my imperfection. In fact, I felt much worse for the woman who got angry with me -- she probably felt even worse after everyone jumped to my defense. Maybe she regretted being so harsh. Maybe she didn't. Maybe she just felt even more victimized that now she had to listen to a crying baby AND no one agreed with her. Maybe she was having a terrible day and the whole thing made her feel worse than ever.
We'll never know, because we never can know exactly where someone else is on their own personal scale, or what they are going through that pushed them to that point. All we can do is treat everyone with understanding and compassion, trying not to be quick to get angry or be offended. As human beings, we are all going to have Worst Self moments -- let's not define others (or ourselves) by them.
P.S. If you think others might be uplifted by this post, please feel free to share it wherever you share stuff. :)