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Nice parking, a$%hole

I wonder what the world would be like if we could learn to lead with compassion. 

I began to think about this some weeks ago as I left a building where I’d spent the day with my mother in palliative care—the day before she died. I’d arrived in a hurry early that morning after one of my sisters called me in. My mother had had a hard night and we were fearing the worst. I’d parked hastily in the dark, snow-covered visitors’ lot, and hadn’t given another thought to my car all day. Why would I? My mother was dying. 

When I left the building after that long and emotionally brutal day, I saw a note tucked into my windshield wiper. In very neat and careful handwriting, someone had written, “Nice parking, asshole.” 

It hit me like a punch. I looked down and saw the snow had melted, revealing that I had indeed taken up two spots in the lot. And my car is a big luxury car, perhaps signalling that its driver is a rich, selfish idiot. The note writer had taken those two pieces of information and written an entire story about what a jerk I must be.

Leading with compassion

Imagine if that person had led with compassion. He or she might have paused to consider where we were both parked for the day: outside an assisted living facility. The note writer could have taken this into account and imagined the emotional state in which I had parked (never mind that I couldn’t even see the lines on the pavement for the snow that morning). They could have thought, “What a terrible morning this driver must have had,” rather than “What a jerk.” 

Leading with compassion, the note writer might have looked past the price of my car and at its function instead. It’s big, so it’s easy for my elderly parents to get in and out of. There are seat warmers even in the back, so my passengers being ferried to various medical appointments and errands are always comfortable, even in the frigid Ottawa winters. The hatch opens smoothly and the big trunk can fit all manner of wheelchairs and walkers and groceries for multiple households. The car is indeed a luxury, but it’s a practical one, not a status symbol.

Instead, the note writer thought they had me all figured out based on their worst assumptions. “Nice parking, asshole.” Those words stayed with me long after I threw the note out and I drove away. I just couldn’t shake the negativity. I know that I was in an intensely vulnerable state, and I was having an outsized reaction to a relatively small infraction. I just wished that person had given me the benefit of the doubt. 

The benefit of the doubt

After some time dwelling on the note, I finally realized the only way to move on was to in turn give the benefit of my own doubt. Whoever needed that visitors’ parking space was suffering too. Were they at the facility visiting a parent, like me? A spouse? A dear friend? Whatever their situation, it couldn’t have been particularly joyful, and in their own vulnerable state, they’d had an outsized reaction to my infraction. I forgave them. 

I haven’t forgotten, though. The next day my mother died, and the weeks after that were a blur of grief and terrible errands: to the funeral home, the crematorium, the bank, the lawyers. But now that the immediate chaos of my mother’s death has faded, I’m reflecting on how many people I interacted with on my way to those errands who had no idea that I was saying goodbye to my mother. Who knows how many careless conversations I had, how many times I cut someone off in traffic or seemed distracted or rude? Was I curt when ordering food? I don’t know. I was in a haze. 

I hope that the people I intersected with during that time were able to look beyond my behaviour and give me the benefit of the doubt. I hope they could think outside their bubbles and remembered that a good percentage of the people we meet each day are struggling with emotions or circumstances almost too big to carry. 

Thank you, note writer

“Nice parking, asshole.” If I knew who’d written this, I would send them a thank-you note today. Am I always patient with people cutting me off or letting a door slam in my face? Absolutely not. And I’m sure I’ll always grapple with my own hasty judgements. But because of that jarring note, I will work to give others the benefit of the doubt and lead with compassion. To the bad parkers, slow talkers, disorganized tellers, scattered healthcare workers, grumpy travellers—I’m sorry for ever assuming the worst about you. I’m extending you the benefit of the doubt and a lot of compassion for whatever challenge, loss, or worry you’re facing today. 

Are you able to extend the benefit of the doubt to the people around you, or do you tend to think inside your own bubble? Has anyone ever assumed the absolute worst about you? Do share your experiences!

Haven’t listened to my podcast Create, Inspire, and Empower yet? Start at the beginning with Episode 1, by clicking here.