Give ‘Em a Smile and Leave ‘Em Wide-Eyed

It has been an unusually busy week, making it difficult to squeeze in some writing time.  Needless to say, I have not taken a great deal of time to craft out and consider what I wanted to write this week.  So, finally, it is Saturday and I have just been inspired by something I saw online.  It was from the “Lessons Learned In Life Inc” social media page.  They posted a little blurb that read, “I like to smile at people who do not like me.”  I really do have to laugh at the inspiration that pops into my head over the oddest thoughts!

I would hazard a guess that there are very, Very, VERY (V-E-R-Y) few people that get through life without someone not liking them, or at least getting on the wrong side of someone from time to time. It is true that some people are just unlikable; but for most people – who do not go around pushing people’s buttons –  there are a variety of reasons why they may get a “dislike” from time to time.

I have been blessed with a temperament that is pretty low-key and easy going.  I have not had to tangle with a lot of negativity from other people during my lifetime. I believe that one reason for this is that I am awesomely blessed by my Lord; plus, I will run as far and fast and furious as I can from conflict. I don’t like to argue. I don’t like to fuss and fight.  I will walk away from situations that are filled with drama. Although, with that being said, I have to smile at the memory that crossed my mind when I read that quote about “smiling at people that don’t like you.” Even for me, sometimes you just have to poke the bear!

I am a small town girl.  I like things quiet, simple and old fashioned; although I have spent considerable time in the “big city.”   As I have shared before, in the spring of 1991, I moved from a tiny east-Tennessee town, with a population of between seven to eight thousand, to live and work in the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, with a population, at that time, of somewhere between four and five million.

That, alone, was daunting. Add to it the fact that I had just started a new position within my company as a subcontractor working for a lady named, “Ethel Moore” (not her real name….)  I was to be part of a two person team that would support a computer system that Ethel’s team created which was being used by a government agency.  (OK, think early nineties and DOS DEC systems!)  The comical part being that I had never worked with this particular system before.  I went to work with this group and they sent me to Washington two weeks later.  I was to have on-the-job training by the other team member that would be working there, and then I would remain on site for two years.

The first couple of weeks in the big city were spent doing a lot of driving around when the traffic was not quite so intense, to find our way around.  We were beginning to become familiar with the area, and we had just scratched the surface on the computer system that I was learning.  Then about three weeks in, my co-worker was called home because of a family emergency.  I was sort of freaking out, because I just scarcely knew how the email portion of the system worked.  I had no clue as to the functionality of the databases.  The support team there in Tennessee assured me that, together, we could handle any situation that arose.

My first couple of days alone were not too bad.  The email system was a monster and no one had even asked about database information.  Ah, but I knew it would eventually happen.  I had just hoped that my co-worker would be back before it did.  So the day came.  Here I was sitting in a very large conference room, that was shared by various computer support contractors servicing that agency.  I was sitting in the back corner, surrounded by my wall of cardboard boxes.  There were no walls or cubes, so we took the massive number of computer boxes available and built our own cube world.

A person came in and wanted to know who to speak with about particular databases.  Everyone, quickly, pointed to the back corner.  I should have known there was a reason!  I poked my head around the wall of cardboard and motioned them back to my space.  They introduced them-self as working for a specific department.  They told me that they needed to look at information from a number of our databases.  Let me add that there was no, “pretty please” or “mother may I?” The request was made in an intimidating manner.  I became uncomfortable immediately.

Then the inquisition began.  I explained the situation that I was currently in, that I was training on the system myself and that my co-worker had been called away; but I would help in any way that I could.  I was able to access the system, with basic functionality.  Then they ask the first question.  I told them that I could not help them with that.  They asked another question, and I followed with the same answer.  We went through a number of questions that all ended the same way.  They were getting more condescending with each question.

Finally, I lost my patience with them.  I had told them, every possible way that I could, that I did not have the ability to assist them at that time.  I shut the database down and told them, “Technically, I do not know you, and I do not know if you are even allowed access to these databases.”  Oh my!  That was the very wrong thing to say.  If it was possible, they became even more disdainful.  They picked up their bag, stood up and said, “Well, I will just call Ms Ethel Moore in Tennessee and she will see that I get the access that I need.”  Then they turned on their heel and marched out of the room.

A burst of cheers and clapping brought me out of my moment of sheer panic.  Obviously, our cubes were not sound proof, and apparently I was not the first computer support person that had felt their ire.  I immediately called Ethel Moore’s office myself and explained my situation.”  When I mentioned the name of the person involved in the incident, I was told not to worry.  It turns out that they were a subcontractor, just like me.  They were not an employee of the department they had mentioned, as they led me to believe.  They simply worked for them just as I did.  Plus, they really did not have the kind of access to that database that they were asking for.

I felt vindicated.

The thing was that I had to work, somewhat closely, with this person for the next two-plus years while on site.  I didn’t have any hard feelings.  I figured we should move forward.  Seems that the other person did not feel the same way.  The air became decidedly cold anytime I crossed their path.  We were walking out of the building at the same time one afternoon.  I am just not the kind of person to give the cold shoulder… or accept it very well.  At that moment, I made the decision that I was going to kill them with kindness.  If nothing else, I was going to drive them crazy with niceness.

I held the door open for them and stuck right by their side down the sidewalk to the parking lot.  Since we had just come from a joint meeting, I was chatting away like we were best buds!  I didn’t get much of a reaction, other than, possibly, stunned silence.  From that time on, I made it a point to smile, put myself in their face, always-always smile, and be very nice to this person.  I think it drove them crazy at first.  Then, little by little, the ice started to thaw.

Turns out that they did become an employee of that governmental department, and I was working directly for them.  It was about that time that I moved back to Tennessee.  I still worked on that project, but only spent a few days a month in the Washington offices.  By this time also, I had become the go-to person for them.  We ended up having a pretty good working relationship.  I was the first person they would call when they were looking for information; and when our contract was being considered for renewal, it was their desire to work with us.

Relationships are crazy-complicated, whether personal or professional.  I could have kept to the other side of that icy wall and just finished my time there as another person that did not want to make the effort to get through it.  That is not how God wants us to look at relationships.  He wants us to look at people through His eyes, to try and see past the icy fronts that we put up in an attempt to protect whatever we are hiding inside.  He wants us to try and find a way to surmount those icy walls and put ourselves in positions that will allow them to see His grace and His love.

I don’t know that I accomplished all that with this relationship, but my efforts did turn them from “not liking me” to “depending on me.”  I think that is a step in the right direction.  I did make it over the wall; and I really do get a warm feeling every time I think of “smiling at this person that did not like me.”

~~~

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  ~~ 1 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

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