Are you the Villain in Someone's Story?
In the average week, I could talk to close to a thousand people. That's what happens when you work in an emergency call centre that handles inbound and outbound calls all across the country. In the almost 5 years that I've worked at my job, I've heard as many accents and languages as an international translator. I've heard the most amazing stories. I've been called everything under the sun from "sweetheart" to "stupid bitch." I've called ambulances, fire departments, police stations, family members, friends, neighbours and hospitals. My life overflows with human interaction. Eight hours a day, five days a week, for five years straight. At some point, they all begin to blend together in a mass of nameless, faceless conversations.
I had been on leave this year and spent the last nine months mostly to myself, speaking to at most four or five people a day. Sometimes during that period, the only person I spoke to was myself. I'll admit when I returned, it was more than a little overwhelming going back to hearing so many voices and having so many conversations. The nameless, faceless parade of chatter has resumed and after a few days, I'd fallen back into the pattern. Dial, speak, hang up, repeat. Until a name popped up on my screen that stopped me cold.
For privacy reasons and because they'd fire me if I wrote her real name, we'll call her Susan Stone. She is the villain in my story. Every time I see her name, I get nervous. I don't remember the exact contents of the conversation responsible for making me dread ever speaking to her again. I just know she was irate and I was the unlucky agent that got her call. And the next two after that. All in the space of an hour. On all three calls, she cussed me black and blue and called me everything under the sun. I tried to help and pacify her to no avail. I was without defence, bound to take her abuse by the confines of customer service and a bi-weekly paycheque. I remember crying in the bathroom after those calls. That was two years ago. As I sat there looking at her name on my screen this week, my finger hovered over the keyboard. I still didn't want to talk to her. I still remembered how she'd made me feel.
It made me think about that quote by one of my sheros, Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." It's proven to be true time and time again. I don't remember every word Susan Stone said. I don't even remember why she was upset enough to say them. But I remember the first tear rolling down my face on the way to the bathroom and counting my breaths to keep from losing my cool. I remember telling myself I didn't deserve her abuse but I couldn't afford to quit. Every emotion that flowed through me after those calls came back full force when I saw her name this week.
It was a reminder of the lesson in Ms. Angelou's words--what we do, how we treat people, it matters. We have the power to make people feel hopeless, sad, defeated, weak, awful, and worthless. Every conversation, action, social media post, and interaction we have with others has an impact, some more lasting than others. But @@it's worth considering if the footprint we leave behind in those moments helps mark someone's path or tramples them.@@
Are there moments where we're raging out when calmness would have worked better? Are there times that we're being purposefully rude when we could have been kind. I asked myself, "Am I someone's Susan Stone?" Is there someone out there who feels anxious or angry at the sight of my name or face because of something I said or did to them? That's not to say we should cater all our actions to making people feel good. It's not about walking on egg shells and trying so hard to be inoffensive that we don't act at all. At some point, we're going to step on toes and hurt feelings unintentionally. That's life. But that doesn't mean we get the right to make our bad day and bad attitudes someone else's problem just because they're strangers. I'm not here for that at all. I'm not trying to be anyone's Susan Stone because I have a Susan Stone and I don't like her at all.