Jan 10, 2008

Forgiving the Unfriendly Town

Today I had to drive to a meeting that was normally about a 90 minute trip away from my office. Much of the trip takes me through some smaller, more rural communities in our fine county.

Once such community I came to has several shops and stores along a strip that is really the only main road through the town. Because of the proliferation of Indian Casinos (Native American Economic Entertainment Resorts) in that region, there was a major road widening project underway. This is causing significant traffic delays, but it is necessary so that the roads could handle the increasing casino traffic cruising through this small town all through the day and night.

I had already been in two meetings, starting at seven o'clock in the morning, plus another meeting of sorts on the phone while on the drive. In the three meetings, I had much coffee. In the car, I had much coffee. During my phone meeting, it became clear to me that I would need a biological pit stop.

First I stopped at a gas station. To my great surprise, I learned that I would not be given the gas station restroom key. I thought that perhaps they would prefer that I buy something and "pay the rent" so to speak, so I offered to buy a pack of gum. Rudely, the attendant told me the restrooms are not for the public. I offered to buy gas at $3.63 a gallon but even that wouldn't get me into the restroom.

Flabbergasted and increasingly more biologically concerned, I got back in my car, waited for the flagman to allow me back into traffic, and went next door to a quaint local restaurant. But on the front door was a very large sign that said "Restrooms are for paying customers who eat a meal only." I definitely had no time for a meal and quickly discerned that I didn't have time to discuss policy with the manager.

Next door was an auto-parts store, a rather large one. Surely these guys would understand. But they were the most adamant "Absolutely not, you can absolutely not use our restroom. We in no way have a public restroom." He then added, "and no one on this whole strip is going to allow you to use their restroom, so you might as well be on your way."

Discouraged in my mission, I inquired as to whether or not he could direct me to some appropriate shrubbery. At this, he gruffly said "Not on my property!" I left... and he and three other employees followed. They watched me all the way to my car until I got in and drove away.

Eventually, in another town farther away than I thought possible, my mission was completed. There were no further complications of any kind.

I spent the rest of the day pondering this experience. What an unfriendly town! I kept saying to myself. It was clear that they had some kind of town meeting where they collectively agreed on this policy. I was surprised that even buying something would not earn me some hospitality or even pity. This mean town angered me throughout the day.

But by this evening, driving back through (I had been very careful to take care of all biological business before leaving my meeting) I was reminded of a great rule of thumb to remember whenever people are rude or hurtful: "Hurting people hurt others and are easily hurt by them." I teach that all the time, its one of my favorites. I got this rule from John Maxwell. He said I could steal it. The purpose of this rule is to help us learn to respond well when people hurt us.

How should we respond when people are rude, condescending, inconsiderate or mean to us? Should we be rude back? I don't think retaliation is part of spiritual maturity. It seems to me that a mature response is to understand that when people behave oddly or hurtful, there is something behind it, something that if I fully understood, I would have compassion rather than take it personally.

I wondered about what would precede a community-wide no-public restroom policy, one that would even drive away business, one that would not be customer-friendly.

I realized that the local casinos, four of them that I am aware of within just a few short miles, could be having a negative effect. Certainly, the traffic in the small town was not helping their businesses. It was a mess outside: construction mess, hundreds of cars, most of which were not local and not carrying potential patrons. The smoke, noise and traffic cones must make shop owners grumpy.

I also figured that a large number of people leaving casinos may not be taking care of their own biological business before leaving. Passers-by with too much to eat and too much to drink probably increases the number of drop-ins these businesses receive. And since these drop-ins have no money left, they aren't buying anything either.

Could it be that there is a necessary reason for the no-restroom policy?

Is it understandable that these shop-owners would be rude considering they are likely deluged with over fed and over watered people who have no intention of patronizing their establishment and take the parking spaces of those who do?

Are these people hurting financially because of the issues? and personally as their small town is carved up and polluted by casino traffic?

Are these people hurting?

With those thoughts, my anger turned to compassion. And in my heart, forgiveness.

I guess I don't actually know if my speculations are correct, but nonetheless, the unfriendly people there deserve my consideration of their situation. And my patience.

Next time I go through that town, I think I just go in these stores and smile. And buy something.

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