We’d been having a hard but good day, helping a relative who was downsizing pack their house for the move. We’d filled a van to the roof with items to give away and drove to a charity’s drop-off to make the donation.
Another car was unloading, so we pulled in behind them and waited, then pulled into their spot when they left. The workers disappeared inside with the first car’s donations, and since they had a sign asking patrons not to unload items themselves (likely a liability issue), we stood behind the van and waited.
And waited. And waited.
After about 15 minutes, I went looking for someone to help us while Don stayed near the van. A few minutes later, I heard a man yelling in a fiercely scolding voice, “Get away from there! You ain’t allowed to be looking in there.”
I heard Don apologize and say he’d only been looking for someone to help us, but the man would have none of it. He continued berating Don for being where he wasn’t allowed, far beyond a simple sentence or two.
Don is about the calmest, kindest, most laid-back person you’d ever hope to meet. He apologized politely and returned to the van to wait until the unloaders descended. But his face was red. He looked pinched.
Before that moment, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him angry in the nearly 40 years we’ve known each other. This remains the closest to fury I’ve seen in him, and it was so non-Don-like it was impossible not to notice.
He didn’t drive off in a huff or dump the stuff on the ground but conversed with the workers while the van was finally emptied — even helped, as much as they would allow. After we left, he kept trying to be his usual silly self, but there was a darkness hovering. He kept going quiet, and I knew he was replaying the incident in his head.
I have no idea what might’ve happened to that man that day. He could’ve just received bad news or suffered a breakup or some tragic thing that caused him to lash out at a stranger. Yet despite attempts at compassion, that feeling of having been unjustly scolded continued to linger throughout the rest of the day.
That man was what I’ve come to call a spoiler — someone hellbent on making sure others are as miserable as they are.
Most of us go through life without much real power to speak of, at least not in the corporate executive or political leader kind of way. Yet we have power nonetheless — the power to make someone’s day better, or worse. And most of us have multiple opportunities throughout the day.
A stranger entered the elevator with me the other day and though we were together less than a minute, her compliment lifted me more than a turbo-shot triple latte.
That same night, a man whipped suddenly into the parking spot beside us in a way that made us jump. When he got out of his Jeep, his body language was such that you just knew he was in a bad mood.
“Hey!” Don yelled after him.
I saw the man straighten his shoulders, clearly anticipating conflict.
“I love your Jeep,” Don said. “Is that a custom color?”
I watched as the man instantly and completely relaxed his stance. He smiled broadly.
“It’s my baby,” he said, stroking the tire well cover. “Pride and joy.”
His demeanor as he walked off was completely different than it had been mere seconds earlier. Don’s simple compliment had shifted his gears.
It can take so little from another person to spoil a day or make it worlds better.
And it’s up to us which we choose.