I was working in a school one morning, and I had a pretty major headache. For my work as a research consultant, I travel a lot from school to school and had a lot to do that day. I was hoping to make really quick work of what I had to do. 4 kids, 4 interviews. No problem. However, things didn't go exactly as I planned, which is often the case in schools. It took some extra work to get the kids I needed to speak with since I was late. I was feeling rushed and irritated with myself for not getting there earlier like I was supposed to. After some coordinating, I was able to talk with the kids I needed to see. I've developed good relationships with the students and staff at this school, so usually once I get around the logistics I can do my work really well. But this particular morning, the first kid came over looking like he didn't want anything to do with me. He gave me a some attitude as he sat down. I ignored it and just went through the questions I had for him, but was surprised by his behavior and irritated at the 'tude. Headache + logistical issues + the time crunch gave me less than my usual patience. "Come on kid," I was thinking, "I just need to get through this and you can go". In that moment, I decided he was a difficult kid and that he probably wouldn't be part of my program once it got up and running - since I'm looking for nice peers for my students with Autism. I was mentally writing him off & struggling with him to get the work done.
Just then, we were approached by a teacher I had just met the day before. She came up to the child and used a very gentle tone with him, was super compassionate - and had a really kind and caring look in her eyes. She said, "Once you're finished with Miss Julie, you can go into the cafeteria and then you can have your breakfast. It'll be ready by then. You'll get your breakfast I promise". It was about 10:45am, and the child hadn't eaten yet. The boy looked a little disappointed, and maybe a little embarrassed, but nodded and went right back to answering my questions. My heart broke in half. No wonder. No freaking wonder he didn't want to talk to me. Not only had he not eaten yet....he had to talk to me before he could do so. I could see that he didn't want to talk about it, so we kept working as quickly as we could. I was determined to help him get finished quickly so he could get what he needed. We were a team now because I understood him. Everything had shifted and I saw him so differently than just a few moments before. His shirt was dirty, he was tired and he couldn't remember anything that I needed from him. But he was brave, and he was doing the best he could.
While we finished the interview, I kept thinking about how I had totally misjudged this child and his attitude toward me. It wasn't personal, and he wasn't copping an attitude for no reason. Hangry is a real thing. I've done it, and I can certainly forgive it. But on a serious note - I can't even imagine what its like to go hungry and I know that I take it for granted. I'll never know how many meals this child has had to miss, and I'll never understand how difficult his life must be day to day. I got to thinking about how easy it is to misunderstand a person. To see them incorrectly & judge harshly. Especially when we're not feeling so good ourselves. It can be really easy to make up our minds about a person and carry on as though we're right. I can't say it for sure but I daresay we're almost never correct. It's quoted so often that its become cliche - to "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" - but it is so, so true. A friend once told me that we each have a lot of stories that shape who we are. My bet is that if we could know everyone's story, we'd be a whole lot kinder to one another. Everyone you meet has a story that would break your heart. We cannot know each others pain or the depths of the struggles each one of us faces - no matter what it looks like from the outside. A little bit of kindness and compassion can go such a long way. I saw that same kiddo the next day, and he smiled wide and threw his arms open to give me a big hug. He became one of my favorite students this year. Every time I see him he reminds me of the most important thing - be kind, be kind, be kind.