How many times have you encountered a person and thought that question to yourself, "What is your problem?"
Over the course of my life, I have encountered thousands of people who have made me ask that question. And in my younger days, I used to take other peoples' behavior personally. If I was greeted with someone in a foul mood, I would wonder what I had done to upset them. If a teacher yelled at a student for misbehaving in class, I would try extra hard to sit straight and not cause problems. Even in my first marriage, I found myself trying to change my behavior to 'please' my spouse.
Thankfully, I have discovered that there is rarely an incident where my behavior is the culprit. What I have learned, instead, is that every person I meet is dealing with their own long list of issues, battles and problems.
Look at my current job, for example. I teach high school drop outs. I have been asked many times, "Why do kids drop out of school?" There are as many different answers as there are kids dropping out. Each of these kids is fighting many battles at home and at school. They might have missing parents. They might have substance abuse issues. They might have their own children but no child care. Some of my students have never had a role model in their lives of someone who finished high school, so why should they?
When I was a retail manager, I would often have to deal with "difficult" customers. I learned to listen carefully to what they were saying and to acknowledge the problem. Oftentimes, however, if I continued to listen after the problem was resolved, I would discover that there were other factors going on that had nothing to do with our store.
Have you ever been upset while driving and it caused you to be distracted? Have you ever lost your temper with someone who did not deserve your wrath? Was there a time you vented on someone who had no part in your anger, but was unfortunate enough to come along right when you needed to unload?
We are all capable of mis-directing our emotions. It is easily done and difficult to undo.
The next time you are 'barked at' by someone or cut off in traffic, tell yourself that the person is dealing with things you know nothing about. Perhaps they just got horrible news about a loved one. Perhaps they just had a huge fight with their spouse. Maybe they just heard the word 'cancer' from their doctor. I promise you it is easier to diffuse a situation and let go of your own frustrations when you try to see a situation in this light.
It is reality that we all have problems and stress. As much as we would like everyone to treat us with kindness and respect, it's not likely to happen. So try to give people a break. Go ahead and ask, quietly to yourself, "What's your problem?!" But instead of asking it aloud and insisting on an answer, simply imagine the struggles they might be facing and try to let it go.
We all need a break every once in a while. If you give me one, I will do my best to do the same!