I approached the hostess stand at one of my favorite restaurants Friday night.
“How long is the wait?”
“About 30 minutes.”
I mustered a cool countenance.
“Do you even know who I am?”
She wasn’t amused.
I gave her my name and waited. The hostess was doing a nice job of working through her list without having to shout the names over the huddled throng. I wondered how she remembered so many people. Then I snuck a glance at her list and discovered her secret. Next to the names she wrote a brief description of the person.
“Cat lover. Sweet,” she jotted down. Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw the hostess summon the party of an older woman wearing a patient smile and a Siamese cat sweater.
“Beard. Mad.” I scanned the room and saw a man with a full facial hair and a menacing glare. Bingo.
This was fun. There was “Huge. Rude.” And “Tattoo. Funky.” I pegged them both. Then “Hot. Blue eyes.” That wasn’t me.
“Big nose. Not funny.” I looked left. Then right. No luck. My eyes followed the hostess as she wandered through the crowd. When she returned to the hostess stand our eyes met.
“Oh there you are,” she said.
“Me?” I asked, looking around.
“Your table is ready.”
Big nose? Not funny? She was probably right on both counts but it was a setback of sorts for me. After 50 years, I was just starting to come to terms with my nose.
We do it all the time don’t we? We categorize people based on our limited perspective. It’s just easier that way. We take a fleeting encounter and fill in the blanks. I specialize in this. I’m the Burger King of drive-thru judgments.
It’s just not as much fun when we are on the receiving end.
One of my posts from last year generated a number of interesting appraisements. Many are positive. Some, not as much.
My favorite thus far reads: “I hope you enjoy feeling smug and superior. F*** off.”
Various other people have instructed me to watch my tone, get off my high horse, lose the attitude, pound sand and die. I’ve been described as cocky, a weasel, a sham, a dimwit, a prick, dense, an embarrassment-oh and now “not funny”-all of which are fairly apt on a rotating basis. I just hope they don’t tell the whole story.
Of course, this is the frustrating thing about our story. It is always read by someone else. I can say something to you, but I can’t interpret it for you. As much as I want to come across as “hot, blue eyes,” I can’t stop you from thinking “big nose, not funny.”
Everything I do or say is filtered through your lens. Since I’m not sure we even see the color blue the same way, it’s a wonder humans aren’t lost in a constant state of misunderstanding and hurt feelings.
We even do this with people we know well.
It usually comes down to assigning intent to the words and actions of others. The Facebook pictures of your vacation are rubbing my nose in it. Your sympathy e-mail seemed shallow and uncaring. Your failure to remember my birthday was a personal affront.
This is not to say that your interpretation is wrong. Just futile. What good does it do to ascribe malice or ill will to the actions or words of others? My mom used to always say “take people at face value.” In other words, quit looking for ulterior motives or hidden meaning. If someone pays you a compliment, don’t search for subtext. If they offer you compassion, don’t waste your energy feeling slighted.
You are the only one who can shape the way you interpret the world. So enough fretting over pithy assessments. You’re wasting your time. But if you can’t help yourself, I know a nice little restaurant where you can hostess.