It was a humid afternoon in Portmore, Jamaica when I drove up to a gas station last week.
The gas station attendant, a lithe young woman wiped sweat from her forehead and re-adjusted her bright red cap before asking how much gas I wanted.
After telling her: “J$3000’s worth” (at an exchange rate of US$1 to J$125), she manoeuvred the nozzle of the pump into my gas tank. A sharp click signaled the target amount had been reached. My tank wasn’t full though so I asked for another $500, then another $500. During that last $500 fill up, the gas tank clicked off as full at the $464 mark. I handed her $4000.
“How much change I have for you?” she asked, “$26? $16? No. $6.” She didn’t have a clue nor a calculator.
I had been competent at math in high school, even at one stage representing my school in a national math competition, but my venture into law had, over the years, robbed me of all numerical ability.
“Let’s round up the $464 to the nearest 10,” I suggested, channelling my math whiz days, “And then subtract that $470 from $500, which would leave $30. But then find the difference between $464 and $470 which is $6. Add that to the $30. That gives you $36, which is my change.”
She looked sceptical. “That doesn’t sound right” she said. Furrowing her brow, she asked: “How is it not $26? Plus I don’t have enough coins on me so I will have to owe you $6. ”
We went back and forth for a minute, much to the annoyance of a motorist who was behind me waiting for the pump. He stuck his salt-and-pepper-coloured head through his driver-side window of a silver Toyota and pressed the full weight of his body onto his horn.
The loud noise was distracting.
“How are you helping?!” I turned and yelled at him. In response, he started to blow his horn in a pattern of short, angry bursts.
“Lady, you are too selfish! Pull your car to the side so I can get gas!”
“Who would pump your gas?” I retorted, “She’d still have to figure out my change before you could get your gas!”
He sighed loudly in exasperation and said nothing more, but not before using his horn a few more times.
I drove away with some of my change. Later than evening I thought to myself: that motorist was right. It didn’t occur to me to pull over to the side. I could have allowed her to start pumping his gas and while his tank filled up we could have continued solving our math problem.
It just did not occur to me.
I suspect I am not alone in not thinking of others. Not that we are evil or wicked but we can get so preoccupied on our problems- mathematical or otherwise- and simply do not give a thought to others.
The more problems we have, the more mental energy we devote to thinking about them. We get so overwhelmed with these problems it doesn’t feel as if we have time to give attention to others, especially those who are not our friends or family.
My math problem delayed that man. Overall, my exchange with the gas attendant took less than 2 minutes. Sure, he could have exercised patience but I could have exercised thoughtfulness.
So this article is about thoughtlessness - but not of the motorist. It is about mine.
The Bible says we must take the beam out of our own eye before taking the speck from someone else’s (Matthew Chapter 7 verse 3).
What thoughtlessness clouds your vision?
So, you think the people at work are untrustworthy, lazy, mischief-making back-stabbers. Have you thought about what they may be facing in their lives, maybe a disabled child or cheating spouse or insecurities about their own abilities? Do you even care?
And yes, your neighbor’s front yard is always a mess- the lawn hasn’t been cut nor the leaves raked in weeks. Have you thought about the issues they may be facing, maybe joblessness or a sick parent? Have you thought to offer to help or is our concern on the potential for the lack of upkeep to decrease property values in the area?
The cashier at the supermarket wasn’t courteous and seemed to take ages to scan your groceries, but have you thought that she may have had to work a long shift without lunch or with achy feet and customers who yell at her and don’t show any interest in acknowledging her or asking how she is?
It is the same with the receptionist at your doctor’s office, your postman, the newspaper delivery guy, the security guard at your office, the car park attendant, your waiter, the shopper in front of you in line, the person standing next to you in the bank or tax office….
My angry motorist may have just gotten news his wife had cancer or be in a hurry to pick up someone to take them to catch a flight at the airport…or anything. My yelling at him was not helpful. The helpful thing to do would have been to pull aside.
I’m not suggesting we excuse other people’s bad behavior. I’m proposing we ask: “how can I help?” I am asking us to consider tangible ways we can be of service. God said if our enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. This idea is so important He said it twice- in the Old and the New Testament (Proverbs Chapter 25 verse 21 and Romans Chapter 12 verse 20). If He asks this show of love of us for our enemies, this says a lot about the way we should treat everyone else.
Thoughtfulness is a deliberate act and requires intention. It doesn’t just happen. We have to consciously think about the needs of others and what they may be going through- even while we are going through things ourselves.
I close with a simple challenge: “how can we be more mindful this week about being thoughtful to the people we interact with?” Start with one. Maybe the guy at the gas station.
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. This year, she is committed to believing for bigger things.
Sharma Taylor previous articles may be viewed at:
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. This year, she is committed to believing for bigger things. She was the 2017 Basil Sellers International Young Writers winner in the young writer program. The young writer program is coordinated by Press Service International (PSI) in conjunction with Christian Today with over 80 young writers from Australia, New Zealand and around the world.
Sharma Taylor previous articles may be viewed at: www.pressserviceinternational.org/sharma-taylor.html