I had a powerful realization about attitude, honesty and the affects of your misery on everyone around you.
In the kitchen at work, I was making my oatmeal. It had to be around 11am. I try to stave off my morning hunger until 11. Half-past-ten if I am being generous with myself. I was making my oatmeal when a colleague walked in. We’ll call him L.
“Hi, L,” I say.
“How are you?” I ask.
End of conversation. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t ask me how I was. Just “fine.” It was “fine,” but I felt it tinged with a hint of aggression. Maybe I am reading into the tone way too much, but I immediately started thinking of what I could have done in the past day and half – the week had only progressed so far – to piss him off.
He continued to move about the kitchen, gathering his cup of water, washing his travel coffee mug. I washed out my oatmeal bowl and poured in the grains and raisins I’d prepared in a baggie earlier that morning. I held the bowl under the spout and pressed the button for the hot water on the coffee machine.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Yeah…” he says.
“Okay, so I shouldn’t take your coldness personally?” I say lightly, with a smile. It was a risk. I felt a chill wash over me.
“No, no, not at all,” he’s holding his mug in one hand and a paper cup in the other. “It’s just a difficult time of year for me, personally.” He leans against the doorjamb.
“Aw, I’m sorry,” I say as kindly and sympathetically as possible.
“It’s okay. Nothing personal though.”
“Okay, well, if you need an ear I am here,” I offer as he leaves.
“Thanks,” he says.
I covered my oatmeal bowl, preparing it for the microwave, and I realized I was shaking. It was a side effect from speaking up, from saying what’s on my mind. I think my body, my adrenaline, felt like I was perhaps risking, or inviting, confrontation by saying what I was thinking. By confronting L with respect to his questionable attitude, I was, in a sense, calling him out. Making him accountable for the way the emotions he wears on his shirtsleeve affect everyone else. And I guess, deep down, I must have felt that was risky. Part of me thinks that it wasn’t right. It was too pushy. It he wants to be in a bad mood that’s his prerogative. And he shouldn’t have to answer to me or feel like he has to tell me about it. The counter to that point is that the tension that he brought into the room, and to our conversation when I was trying to be cordial ended up affecting me.
In the end, I think speaking up, for me, was liberating and not just in the moment. I was able to relieve the worry that I’d done something to piss him off, instead of wondering. Silence is not always golden. When there is silence, a lot of bad feelings can start to fester. Confronting them, even lightly, especially lightly, with a smile, can strip them of their power. Shining a light chases away the darkness.
This interaction proved to me the power our attitudes have over others, as I was on the receiving end of some bad energy. And of course, this wasn’t the first time. But drawing attention to it, and diffusing it right away made it somehow more apparent how much better it feels when mad energy is sent a-packin’.