“You really shouldn’t leave your car running in the parking lot,” said the man with his reusable grocery bags tucked underneath his right arm.
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“You shouldn’t leave your car idling. It’s bad for the environment,” he said, his voice escalating.
“Are you kidding me?” I said, doing my best to keep my temper at bay. “My car has been on for 30 seconds while I put my daughter in her car seat.”
“Yeah, whatever–you need to be more environmentally conscious …” he muttered, briskly walking away.
Furious, I yelled: “Thanks for the unsolicited advice. It’s been super helpful!”
Yes, I yelled at a stranger across the grocery store parking lot.
I didn’t yell at him because I don’t care about the environment. I yelled at him because he saw 15 seconds of my life and decided that his personal agenda was to ensure that I knew I was doing my part to strengthen Global Warming.
What Buddy didn’t see is that I loaded my groceries, took my cart back, and then got my 1-year-old settled into her car seat. Following that, I asked my 3-year-old no less than three times to come get into her seat. She was far too immersed with play on the sidewalk and refused to come over. I proceeded to tell her that her sister and I were going home. I hopped in the driver’s seat, turned on the car, and alas! peering in my window was my eldest, ready to get in her car seat. I strapped her in, closed the door, and looked up to see the disapproving eyes of some dude who has no context for anything.
What Buddy didn’t see is that not only did I bring reusable grocery bags to the store, I also brought my coffee in a travel mug, mine and my daughter’s drinks in reusable water bottles, and that I purchased as many organic and fare trade grocery items as our budget allows, knowing that certain types of food production, as well as waste, places an enormous burden on our earth.
What Buddy doesn’t see is that I am exhausted. I am operating on minimal sleep, spending my days with two beautiful creatures that insist on expressing their individuality and challenging me with their free will. All day long I am disciplining, teaching, engaging, inspiring, cheerleading, negotiating, coercing … I am bending over backwards trying to raise kids that think about other people and treat each other kindly. I am trying to model kindness (I definitely failed the test in the parking lot!). And the truth is, none of that stops when I leave the house. It extends.
What Buddy doesn’t see is that his trip to the grocery store looks very different from mine. A visit for him likely involves walking into the store, selecting items, putting them in his cart and paying. For me (and any other parent that bring their kids to the store), it involves strategy. A helluva lot of strategy. I do my best to shop at certain times of day when the kids are rested and in decent spirits. I pack snacks, drinks and play field-trip leader while navigating through the aisles. I make sure everyone has used the bathroom. I write my grocery list in order of where I need to walk in the store, and heaven forbid I realize I missed something in the pharmacy section when I am the produce department! I am constantly talking, asking questions and redirecting attentions. I am disciplining, mediating and doing my best to be the adult. When I get to the parking lot and finally have my kids and groceries loaded, the last thing I want to hear is a comment from the peanut gallery–from someone who observed me for an eighth of a minute!
This got me thinking about how normal it has become for individuals in our society to critique and scrutinize one another on the basis of perception. We feel we are entitled to do so. But, perception is a person’s reality; it’s important for people to understand that perception is often flawed. Here’s a great example: a mother from Winnipeg, Manitoba had to endure a full interrogation from Child Family Services (CFS) after a neighbor reported that her children were left unattended while playing in the family’s fenced-in backyard. The children are ages ten, five and two. The neighbor saw the children, perceiving that they weren’t being supervised. What the neighbor didn’t see was that the mother was in the home, tidying up on the main floor, and that she had full views of her kids through the windows; the neighbor didn’t see or witness conversations about strangers that the parents have had with their children; the neighbor didn’t see a lot.
Much like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we are a society that sees shadows of truth and interpret them as reality. Social media, for example, has created a space where individuals can say whatever they want with no regard for facts. There’s no meter filtering statements with a true or false button. It’s all based on matters of opinion–opinions that have largely been created by perception.
So, to all of us that have been or are currently a part of the peanut gallery: let’s try to use our eyes and ears before speaking. If you feel the incessant desire to share your opinion all the time–because surely you are right–don’t. Chances are you could do some learning through observation first. And don’t just observe the shadows, come out into the light and wait for your eyes to adjust. That’s what I am going to try to do. It may be awkward, and the adjustment from dark to light may hurt a bit, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Because we simply don’t know the situation the other person is in that has called for a specific action.