There is an article floating around Facebook this week about lateness. Specifically, it demonizes people who run late on the regular, and it is not nice. In fact, the title of it is “No, You Are Not Running Late, You Are Rude and Selfish.” It was written by a professional recruiter, and based on that intel, you’d think the focus of this diatribe would be business and industry, but it’s not. The author mentions tardiness to meetings and being late for coffee with a business associate in the first two paragraphs, but the majority of the article is an attack on lateness in other more universal areas, like dinner parties, social outings, and doctor’s appointments. Spoiler alert: it’s NOT okay to call or text to say you’re running late, apparently even if you’re a doctor who is “making patients wait” due to some emergency at some point during the day that has thrown off the remainder of your appointment start times. To top it off, he says he takes this “character flaw” into account when considering whom to hire and promote professionally (okay, fine, I can live with this) as well as whom to “count amongst my real friends.” Are you freaking kidding me? By this standard it’s a wonder I have any friends at all. Or a husband. Or a job, if we’re being totally honest.
And I will be. I’ll tell you honestly that the part of the article that ruffled my feathers the most was the assertion that these “rude and selfish” people are rude and selfish because they plan to be late, and that is a contradictory statement to me. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I really don’t believe even chronically late arrivers plan to arrive chronically late. Maybe they don’t plan ahead adequately, but I doubt very seriously anyone says, “That person’s time does not mean anything to me, so I’m going to take my time and make him wait.” That is not “running late;” that is indeed rude and selfish. But I really don’t think this is a matter of morality and decency; it’s a matter of priorities. You have them. I have them. Everyone has them, but they tend to be fairly subjective, and in case you haven’t noticed, people get pretty upset (butthurt–I really wanted to type butthurt) when they have decided their priorities are more important than yours. If you need further proof, please see Pretty Much Every Political Post on Facebook. But I digress.
Let’s talk about yesterday. I was having dinner with a friend at 6:00. My daughter’s soccer team, which usually practices on Tuesdays, had a last-minute scrimmage at 6:00. The plan was for me to pick up our kids and meet my husband at home, and then I would keep my dinner date while he took both kids to the soccer scrimmage. I left work at 4:00 to pick up our 2 year-old, whose preschool is usually a 5 minute drive from my job–except that a road between here and there is closed for a few weeks for some construction project, starting yesterday afternoon. I’ve known this was coming for a few days, and since I’m not familiar with the side streets and back roads in the area, I knew I’d have to rely on GPS to deal with this brief inconvenience. I got into my car and plugged the address to my son’s school into Waze and started driving, only to have Waze attempt to route me back to the closed road three times before I finally got far enough away for the app offer me an alternate route. When I finally got there at 4:30, my son ran into my arms and promptly covered me with sand. Sand was everywhere. His hair was matted with sand. It was in his pockets, his socks and shoes, his pull-up. I opted to focus on his hair, thinking that might eliminate the further spread of sand to other areas, like his eyes and my entire backseat, and drove to Sheetz for gas, my kid whimpering the whole way, “Sand in my butt, Mommy. Sand on my penis.” I glanced at my watch–4:45 now, so I shot a text to my husband asking if he could pick up our daughter and drove straight home, where I promptly began removing sand from my son’s entire person. Every article of clothing I removed produced a cloud of sandy dust, like Pigpen from Peanuts, and while I didn’t measure for accuracy, there was probably ⅓ cup of it inside his pull-up. There was no “dusting off” his bum and privates, so I filled a sports bottle with warm water and–well, by 5:30 he was walking around sand-free in just his Avengers t-shirt, socks, and green Crocs.
We all made it to our respective 6:00 events on time, but that’s not always the case, because scenarios like the one I just described are not uncommon in my life. Kids are constant variables. I wake up at 5:15 every morning; my husband is up shortly after; we have a morning routine, and we do our best to enforce it, but we have no control over the girl’s lost glasses or when the boy might have to poop exactly one minute before it’s time to walk out the door. We don’t know when one of them will wake up sick, or grumpy, or decidedly against clothing and breakfast, or when someone will have a tantrum in the middle of waffles or burst into tears over a lame joke, and we do our best to make adjustments as we go, but sometimes it doesn’t work, and so sometimes we are late. And let me assure you, Friends, Business Coffee Dates, Dentists and Doctors Everywhere, Bosses and Colleagues, this has not one damn thing to do with you or your priorities, and I’m not even a little sorry, because these little people are my priorities right now, and if you have a problem with that, oh well. I’ll do the best I can.
If you are reading this right now and are planning to leave me some advice in the comments, or to tell me how wrong I am for taking this stance, don’t waste your time. Truth be told, we are usually not late despite the wrinkles and bumps that come with having young kids. Sure, I should probably get to work earlier every morning, and we are often walking into church as the music starts, but I daresay Mr. Rude and Selfish probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at me. We manage to arrive on time to most doctor’s appointments, games and practices, social affairs, and various other calendar events. So why are you so worked up, you might ask? Pretty much the same reason I get worked up every time I so much as glance at my Facebook feed: we have become a society devoid of empathy. “We” have it all together. We are right and everyone else is wrong. We don’t like it when someone disagrees with us or places our priorities below their own. We don’t say “I’m sorry” anymore. We don’t listen. We are petty, dismissive, and quick to correct others, but we do not wish to be corrected. We aren’t intolerant of mistakes, differences in belief, differences, period. We don’t want to know why it happened–why our associate was late, why our friend feels so strongly about that candidate, why that black man was shot. We lump people together into over-generalized categories and focus on these labels rather than individual people. The political climate of our country spotlights this behavior, but it is prevalent all the time, and thanks to the social media disguise most of us wear over our actual faces, we spout our disgust freely without ever really taking the time to look at the individuals we are vilifying.
What if we stopped that? What if we just…went on with our lives and stopped trying to maintain this false sense of control? Because it’s ultimately about control, isn’t it? But what if we stopped arguing about abortion and gun control and race? What if people who don’t approve of something just DON’T DO THAT THING? Even better, what if we took it a step further and asked, “So why do YOU do that thing? I want to hear what you have to say.” What if, instead of calling those who differ from you politically Libtards or Nazis, you just voted your conscience and acted like a good human being–nothing else, that’s it. Because when we call each other names or assign labels to people based solely on OUR expectations and priorities, we no longer see people, we just see words. Words like “rude” and “selfish,” for example, instead of a frazzled mom who probably has sand in her eyes and nine other places to be, but managed to get to your event with seconds to spare–this time.
I’ve been trying hard lately to reign in my instant mental judgments of people whose actions and behaviors are not clear to me, and it’s a worthy exercise. It’s hard to feel snarky and irritated with someone when your way of thinking shifts from, “Well that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” to “I wonder why she’s doing that–there has to be a reason.” There’s a reason or an intention behind every action, every statement, every choice. And yes, even behind every late arrival to your Webinar or your Fancy Dinner Party or your informal business meeting at Starbucks. It’s possible that reason is carelessness, thoughtlessness, or just poor planning–but maybe it’s a diaper full of play sand, or a kid who needed an extra hug or another 15 minutes of nap, or any number of things that drained the clock. Maybe that person whose Facebook comments are making your blood boil is just a jerk, but maybe she’s just struggling to be heard. Maybe that co-worker truly is a jackass, or maybe he’s just anxious or frustrated and doesn’t know how to relax. Maybe your kid’s teammate’s mom is a snob, or maybe she sits alone at the end of the field because she used up all her energy to come to this game and she just doesn’t have anything left for small talk. It’s easier to decide you already know what there is to know about a person than it is to get the whole story, but speaking from a very sandy place myself, I can promise you, the story is almost always worth your time.