Imagine 2 women, Hildie and Caroline, living next door to each other on the same quiet street.
Hildie is sixty years old and known as the town’s One-Woman Welcome Wagon. Friendly, garrulous to the point of hyperbolic. She’s delighted when Caroline moves in with three young sons, a dog and 2 cats. Through the smudged windows, Hildie notices clutter within. Ever crafty, she fixes up a welcome basket with 3 crocheted dishcloths, a matching scouring cloth (also crocheted), a container labeled ‘Home-Made Scouring Powder ☺” and a spray bottle containing her own special white-vinegar glass cleaner. Tucked within the cleaning supplies is a note written on cheery yellow notepaper which reads, “Welcome to the neighborhood! Looks like you could put these to good use!” Satisfied that her gift basket looks presentable, Hildie carefully avoids tripping over the 3 bikes lying carelessly in her neighbor’s front yard and deposits the basket on Caroline’s front porch when she knows Caroline is at work and the boys are at school. She hears a dog bark furiously from within the small house and two wary felines watch her from the living room window.
Caroline is a 32-year-old divorced mother just starting a new job as a nursing assistant. She and her 3 sons just moved into the house next to Hildie’s, and unpacked cardboard cartons are piled high in every corner. The pets have left Caroline’s carpet stained and the second-hand furniture threadbare. Dirty dishes clatter in the sink and the boys scatter their dirty clothes everywhere. She comes home dreading the filthy squalor she knows will greet her. One of her elderly patients passed away that afternoon. She’s tired and her back aches. She doesn’t even have the energy to order a pizza for the boys’ supper.
When she arrives home and discovers the welcome basket, her first feeling is curiosity. Then she reads the note; “Welcome to the neighborhood! Looks like you could put these to good use!”
Annoyed, the weary young mother immediately becomes defensive. She glares at Hildie’s house. She’d heard about the old busy-body. Who the hell is she to insult my housecleaning skills? I work sixty hours a week and the boys refuse to pick up after themselves! How DARE the old bat be so rude! Infuriated, Caroline enters her home and slams the door behind her. The dog barks, The kids start making demands. It’s all she can do not to throw the damn basket and its stupid contents into the trash can.
The next morning, Hildie stoops over her front yard flower bed. She knows Caroline will leave for work. She doesn’t expect a ‘thank-you,’ but just in case, she thought she’d make it easy for her neighbor to catch her.
As a scowling Caroline emerges from her house, wrangling her 3 sons into her car, Hildie straightens up, smiles and waves.
“Good morning!” Hildie cries cheerily. “How did you like your welcome basket?”
With the boys tussling into the car, Caroline slams the car door and marches to confront her nosy, pretentious neighbor.
“I don’t know who you think you are, lady,” Caroline begins. “But I don’t appreciate you insulting me and my home. I have cleaning supplies and I know how to use them. I just don’t have time. So you can take your basket of judgmental cleaning supplies and –”
And that’s when profanities were uttered.
Hildie was left stunned, confused and hurt. From then on, the 2 neighbors avoided each other, sharing only cold stares and stony silence.
AND NOW FOR THE COMMENTARY ON PERCEPTION:
I wrote this little anecdote because misconceptions have happened often between me and those I’ve known in my life. Sometimes the misconceptions are easily mended, other times it’s pointless to even try explaining your point of view.
Reading Nanea Hoffman’s quote in the accompanying photo reminds me of how problematic clashing perceptions can be. Depending on one’s state of mind, some folks almost actively seek out offense in words or actions where none was intended.
And that’s when you have to remind yourself that
You are NOT responsible for how others perceive things!
Unless you flat-out INTEND to hurt someone by your words or actions, it benefits no one if you admonish yourself when someone chooses to take unintended offense. That’s THEIR choice. THEIR perception.
In the example, Caroline mistook Hildie’s gift as a slight, where Hildie simply meant to give her a useful assortment of cleaning supplies for her new home. Had Caroline’s perception not been so negatively skewed, she would have appreciated the thoughtful gift, thanked Hildie, and they would have remained amicable neighbors. Likewise, aside from having minded her own business to begin with and not delivered the gift basket in the first place, Hildie could have chosen not to be hurt by Caroline’s outrage. For her part, Hildie could have forgiven Caroline for her outburst after realizing how tired and haggard the young single mother looked, and instead of icy silence, she could have explained she meant no offense by her gift, and the relationship would have been much healthier.
Perception is the key to everything. Just because someone forgot your birthday, stood you up for a date or declined your invitation to a special event, pause for a moment before you take the offended route. Consider the affront wasn’t done to hurt you. Change your perception, and you could save a lot of hurt relationships.