LIFE LESSON: “Plant seeds, not weeds when building relationships!”
OK, so a questionable title choice, but here is some context: I lived on campus my first year of university and was packing my stuff before moving home for the Summer. My dorm neighbor came into my room and we engaged in some idle chit chat before he asked, “Jamie, can I tell you something?” In hindsight, I wish I would have said no, but if I had, I would have missed out on a valuable life lesson that I’m about to share with you in this post.
In a soft, half-hearted tone, he said, “You’re a fucking asshole!” Then he walked out of my room.
Well, that was random…and hurtful, I thought to myself. At first I chuckled because it was totally unexpected, humorous in a way. Especially considering his mild demeanor, and pleasant personality, I didn’t think he had it in him to drop the F-bomb…and to my face no less. As I began to realize the gravity of what had just happened, the shock-induced humor faded.
I grew offended. I’m not an asshole, I affirmed to myself. I considered myself a good guy. I had lots of friends and enjoyed unforgettable experiences throughout my freshman year. I fully immersed myself in the dorm culture which involved give-and-take rituals of daily room rags, unscrewing salt shaker caps in the cafeteria, leaning water buckets on doors, igniting shaving cream balloon bombs, parties, and things I would never mention publicly. In hindsight, I thought my first year of university was a successful one, at least socially.
But I was bothered and began to question myself, Am I an asshole? Is this what people think of me? Surely, I hoped this wasn’t the case. But this guy did. And if this one person did, then he likely would have shared his opinion of my character to his network of friends, some of which overlapping into my social network. And to him, I wasn’t just an asshole, I was a fucking asshole! That’s even worse. To stress his point with such a strong adjective, coupled with the courage and confidence in delivering his message to my face, means to me that he more than believed it, he had conviction.
The more I rationalized this unpleasant experience, the more I began to question my own belief system. I thought everyone processed dorm life experiences the same way I did. I considered all of it in good fun and humor. Obviously, this was not the case as it became apparent to me that this individual processed like experiences much differently…to him, it was neither fun, nor humorous.
Upon realizing this, I began to tread philosophical waters: I thought that his perception of me, a fucking asshole, was shaped by my actions, how I conducted myself to him directly and indirectly, in the present and in the past. His opinion of me today was shaped by the sequence of my actions over the course of the year we were in dorm together. More specifically, it started by a single exchange the first time we met: having just arrived to dorm shortly after Labour Day in September, I met this individual at the cafeteria…he accompanied the group of friends I had connected with prior to his arrival.
There were six of us around the table and I looked over at this guy and said jokingly, “So who the fuck are you?!” The table exploded and we all had a good laugh, and I assured the guy I was just joking around. He laughed in response to the awkwardness, and I thought all was good and moved on. Obviously, he did not.
This was the very first seed I planted in our relationship and over time, it grew, but not in the form of a pretty flower, but rather, an ugly weed. All the joking around, little things I did throughout our experience in dorm together, was to him, nothing more than disrespect fertilizing this weed until it grew into something so hideous, that it was time to cut it down.
And did he ever rip that weed out of the ground, roots and all! In the literal context, this meant calling me out: Jamie, you’re a fucking asshole. This blindsided my own personal belief that we were simply brothers bonded by dorm culture, creating some awesome memories-no, some fucking awesome memories. I felt bad that he didn’t see it that way and it hurt even more when I realized that I was the source of his grief that cultivated over our 8 months together. I truly felt terrible about it.
After concluding my soliloquy, I walked out of my room and knocked on his door. He opened it and I proceeded to apologize for my actions owing to his poor perception of my character. He appreciated it. We shook hands and bid each other a great Summer. That was the last time I ever saw him.
I learned a very valuable life lesson that day: no, not that I’m a fucking asshole, but rather, I learned that I own “a” perspective, not “the” perspective. The fact that this ugly weed grew under my nose for so long without even recognizing it spoke volumes of my ignorance toward this person’s feelings. He perceived my behavior as hurtful, degrading, an attempt to make him feel less of a person, and for that, I was a fucking asshole. Was this my intention? Of course not, quite the contrary. But this was his perception. He owned it as I did my own. And it was equally important. Upon learning this-about how he felt, it made me feel very, very small. So much so, my own perception withered away.
I am forever indebted to this individual because this experience strengthened me, it made me better as a person. I never want to plant another weed in a relationship again. Rather, I want to plant a seed that flourishes into something meaningful, valuable and impressionable, not just in the lives of family and friends, but everyone I have a privilege of building a relationship with. “Respect,” I have learned, is the ultimate fertilizer.