A Life Lesson

A while back, my close guy friend started acting uptight and snappy whenever I was around him, so I started wondering what I had done to offend him. Had I said something off? Did he just not like me anymore? So, of course, I did the mature thing and called my mom.

Her advice? She asked me to consider whether he was simply having a rough month. “People are embedded in a complete world of their own,” she told me. “People have their own reasons and stresses for doing things which may be completely unconnected to you—and usually are! Hold your ground if necessary and be confident in yourself, but at the same time forgive others and let their little crazinesses go unpunished. Maybe they actually need your compassion.”

Then, a couple days ago, I read a post about what we can learn from babies. This lesson jumped out:

People are usually tired and scared; not mean. Babies can’t, of course, tell us what is wrong with them. We have to guess—and what’s striking is how generous we are in our interpretation of what is going on…We are constantly aware of just how much the workings of hunger, a tricky digestive tract or a lack of sleep may affect human character. How helpful it would be if we were more often able to apply a similar method of interpretation around adults. How kind we would be if we could look beneath the surface behavior—the unpleasantness, viciousness and desperate grumpiness—and see that what could really be going on is just confusion, fear and exhaustion.

Beautiful, right? Such a good thing to remember. So often we leave interactions wondering, “Why didn’t she laugh at my joke?” “She seemed bored, was I boring?” “He snapped at me, he must not like me,” etc…when, really, they might just be hungry:)

P.S. A trick for worriers.

  1. Jo, I love this article. When I figured out that not everyone thinks, believes, reacts, and does things the way I do, my life got a whole lot easier.

  2. So, so true. I used to snap at people I thought were just being dicks, but everyone has a back story. I have a back story. I wouldn’t like it if someone didn’t give me space when I needed it so I try to give everyone the space I would want. Works okay!

  3. Joanna thanks. When I was having a moment at work today with my boss I thought of this article you wrote and it changed my perspective completely.

  4. I must admit, I always feel hurt and wonder what I did when someone is short, rude or grumpy with me.
    1- I don’t do that to people. I will just tell them I feel bad and don’t feel like talking etc but I don’t attack someone then excuse myself with my having a bad day.
    2- I take it to heart when people are not nice to me. People I don’t know have the power to make me feel bad, for a very short time but still, I am open to hurt.
    3- Because I am this way, I do my best not to be hurtful to anyone else. What I know makes me feel bad, I will not do to someone else.. unless I hate them .. lol
    So I understand and I am totally feeling bad for you because you felt bad but for me, the truth is … no one has to share their “grumps” .. it really is not impossible to control oneself. really.
    So I am sorry you felt bad .. big hugs to you.

  5. You should check out The Four Agreements, Joanna. Your mom is spot on about not taking things personally but having compassion for what they may be going through.

  6. I live in Paris, and the events of the past week or so have led people close to me (my officemate and also my husband) to volunteer that they feel different – tired (not sleeping well), irritable, depressed – and taking it out on others. I think it’s good they both recognize the effect these events are having on them, but it’s hard to watch (as an American I feel like I wznt thru this on 9/11 and with each school shooting, unfortunately), and I don’t have much advice to give. Wish I had your mom to ask!

  7. Thanks so much for this post, Joanna. Really needed this reminder today. :)

  8. such good advice–something i have to keep in mind. i’m always putting my own crazy stories to weird interactions! so important to keep perspective.

  9. This. People need to hear this more often.

  10. Check out Roots of Empathy (, a school based program developed to reduce bullying and aggression in the classroom. A mom and baby visit a class for an entire school year and students get to observe the parent-child relationship and learn how parents and caregivers are able to meet the needs of the baby even though the baby can’t express them with words. The relationship is empathy in action. Students learn all about non-verbal communication and become more sensitive to their peers. Pretty cool stuff!

  11. I’m actually copying her quote onto my desktop right now. What a great reminder! A lot of times I question what I did to someone or what I said…and I forget, they have a world of their own that I may know nothing about! Thanks for sharing :)
    ~ Samantha

  12. This is one of those things I wish I were better at. I have been extremely sensitive my entire life- people who know me well would say it’s one of my defining characteristics (which, I’d like to point out, is not always a bad thing).
    When someone behaves this way towards me, it’s really hard for me to let it go. I’m working on it, though. Here’s to hoping this gets easier with age.

  13. Your mom is a treasure.

  14. I LOVE this! It’s so true, both for others and ourselves! Sometimes I question the way I’m acting and then I realize that there’s something about my basic needs that isn’t being met and I need to get on that so I can stop being so terrible. Such a good reminder to give ourselves and each other some grace!

  15. I am wondering why you didn’t just ask your good friend what was going on? So much easier than making assumptions or trying to read someone’s mind.

  16. I normally follow this advice so well, but as I’ve moved away from all my friends in the past year and only have technology to communicate with, friendships have been so much more work. Most of the relationships have been good, but one friend in particular has been especially difficult to keep in touch with. I was back in town for 6 days and I didn’t even see her. I’ve been taking it hard, and maybe I need to see that it’s not about me. As hard as it is, I think I do need to keep reaching out, showing I care, and be patient. Thanks Joanna.

  17. love your sweet dog!!! angie from germany

  18. Words of wisdom. I often try to remind myself that people are wrapped up in their own worlds and you have no idea what might have happened to someone five minutes before you see them. Keeps me sane in LA traffic ;)

  19. Your mom seems so wise. No wonder you thought to call her first!

  20. My friend told me that her mother has always used this question on her if she was in bad mood, even as a adult: “Do you need a nap, a snack, or a crap?” And always one of those needs was the reason she was out of sorts. I now use that for my husband and me.

  21. I like this mentality. From now on when someone is mean or grumpy to me I will just chalk it up to them being gassy.

  22. Your mom’s the best. I wish I could call her when I had a problem! You are super lucky and that is wonderful advice :) Thank you for sharing. PS The dog pic is priceless.

  23. so what happened with the “ask my mother” series you were thinking of starting?
    your mother seems to be very wise in these matters indeed.
    Let us know!


  24. I’ve been needing this lesson. It’s always easier said than done, but my resolution for 2015 is not to take things so personally. I watched Boyhood last night, too … practicing being here now and appreciating beauty in normality are other habits I’m striving to master.

  25. So true…….that´s what we have to learn every day……wonderful post!

    Thank´s Jade

  26. It is great advice! I tend to be VERY paranoid about friendships and this is so good to remember. And just like we do with babies (try to feed them, put a blanket on them, or talk to them when they’re older) it might be good to reach out to friends as well and ask how they’re doing this season and let them talk -or not. I imagine that would be welcomed -especially if that friend is a close one.

  27. “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle” is the version of this sentiment that I always (try to) come back to.

  28. I’m with carlykeeling, what ended up happening with the guy friend? :)

  29. I really enjoy these types of reminders. It’s nice to regroup and remind yourself that people are in their own heads a lot of the time. I hope these types of posts become a trend on your blog, because I’m definitely a fan!

  30. I both agree and disagree…it’s definitely important not to make everything about ourselves. Everyone has their own trial and troubles, and to take a person’s errant behavior personally is the wrong move more often than not. So I agree that it’s important to give the benefit of the doubt, and extend a little kindness and understanding, even if it seems like the person may not deserve it. HOWEVER. It’s also important for adults to be responsible for their behavior and to communicate with those around them. I was married to a man who was habitually nasty and borderline abusive when hungry or tired, and our teenage son shares some of those inclinations. The marriage ended badly, and I’ve spent 15 years teaching my son that being tired or hungry, etc, is NOT an acceptable reason to be rude or unkind. A baby can’t verbalize a problem, but an adult certainly can and should. Tell me you’re tired, or that you haven’t eaten all day, or even that there’s a problem that you just don’t want to talk about, and you’ll receive my total sympathy and understanding, but don’t lash out just to vent your spleen…it isn’t right to possibly hurt someone who’s done nothing to deserve it.

  31. I love this. thank you for sharing. Its similar as that “self help” advice that says we should be as gentle with ourselves as if we were a child. You would give bad food, vices, self destructive habits and so on for a small child. you would do and allow only the very best for he/she. <3
    Tell your mom her advice is always appreciated by us as well ;)

  32. As a high school teacher working with poor inner city students, I have to remind myself of this every day. It’s not me, it’s that they didn’t have enough to eat last night.

  33. i miss having a close guy friend, since I’ve been married now for 11 years. It didn’t seem to fly so much at first, but thinking of finding another guy friend that is more local. How does it seem to work out with you and your hubby? Does he have girl friends that he is buddies with?

  34. I love that you called your mom :) But I have to wonder—why didn’t you just ask your friend what was up? I feel like so much of my becoming has been learning to just ASK—for what I need, if something is bothering someone, etc (and it’s an ongoing lesson!).

  35. Over the summer, my best friend had made a new friend and she invited me to hang out with them a couple times. I was hanging out with this girl and the first month she was all happy to hang and the next she wasn’t. I thought that I had done or said something to just rub her the wrong way and tried to get info from my friend. Apparently she was just having boy trouble..

  36. The Four Agreements! I’ll let it speak for itself. I wish the world over would read it and internalize it. Your mom is wise.

  37. When I taught teenagers, I found myself saying over and over: “It’s not about you. It’s really almost never about you. And if IS about you and they don’t talk to you about it…that’s on them, not you.”

    It’s really easier to be kind and forgiving. It’s much less stressful!

  38. I love this! My husband was having a grumpy week and I took it personal and was offended when all along he was just homesick for his friends and family in Seattle. It had nothing to do with me but naturally I made it all about me! :)

    Off topic- Are you going to still do that Ask Mom series you were talking about?

  39. This is such beautiful, valuable advice, and it also feels so timely. I know I over-think interactions, and one of my biggest worries is that I’ve done or said something wrong and haven’t even had the self-awareness to notice it. So very important to keep this nagging self-talk in check. Thank you.

  40. Wait, but what happened with the guy!? haha

  41. This is such good advice!!

  42. What a lovely post! I had something similar happen to me a few months ago with a very close friend. She seem disinterested in my life and I thought maybe we had outgrown each other….but then she opened up and said she had so much anxiety about her high pressure job she was finding it hard to cope with things. Once she opened up and got some help, our friendship returned back to normal. I am so glad I didn’t write off the relationship and kept supporting and asking what was going on. Life can be tough sometimes! Good advice from your mom!

  43. What a healthy perspective! I have been learning this lesson in my own relationships, lately. I find that my own happiness is very content on my level of rest and satiation, and remind myself of that when my friends are frantic or short with me. I hope you and your friend are having a better time :)

  44. I’ve been ruminating on something similar. The best man at our wedding suddenly stopped communicating with us, right about the time our son was born–7 years ago!! we reached out occasionally, but got very little response. We wondered for YEARS what we had done wrong. Somehow, we reconnected over christmas, and it was as if no breach had ever taken place. Perhaps, when someone cuts you out, it’s more about them than you?

  45. I love this. I find that life is much easier if you always give people the benefit of the doubt.

    When someone says or does something that I could be offended over, I always think to myself, “they might not have meant to hurt me, in which case I’m not going to be offended over nothing. If they did mean to hurt me, why would I let someone like that control how I feel?”

    In both case it is always better for me to choose to let it go.

  46. So…..was he just cranky in general or was it you? ;)

    Those are great life lessons! I remember reading in college not to take stuff personally, because it rarely ever is. It was a game changer!

  47. So wise.

  48. Continuing with the grace we tend to give babies, wouldn’t it be lovely if we greeted all new people in our lives with the enthusiasm we greet new babies??

  49. My sister calls the hunger grumps, “hangry”.