My husband is a big fan of old TV westerns and often, in the early evening, he watches re-runs of Death Valley Days. Recently, I happened to catch an episode of one. The story involved four stage coach travelers that included three men and a woman who were traveling to Arizona territory. The woman was to meet her fiancé who had moved there two years prior. One man was a cow puncher, the other a salesman, and the third was a businessman. It wasn’t clear until the end of the episode what business he worked in. The only thing you could tell was that he was in a hurry to get to the next town; he had to be there before the bank closed at the end of the day. Stage travel was fraught with difficulties and delays, and at one point, all the passengers had to exit the stage so the team could pull it up a steep hill. While the passengers walked along, the woman offered to share her picnic lunch with her fellow passengers. This irritated the businessman who was in a big hurry to get to town. However, the group decided to eat lunch, and while they were seated, a big gust of wind blew the woman’s hat off her head and up onto a cliff way above their heads. Obviously upset at the loss of her hat, the woman pleaded with her fellow passengers to retrieve it. They told her that it was impossible. It was too high and it wasn’t safe to climb up the rock face. She finally confessed that her life savings, a sum of $1200, was sewn in between the hat and the lining, and she couldn’t leave it behind. The cow puncher saved the day and retrieved the hat. Once back in the stage coach, finally on their way to town, the group is accosted by two armed men. The robbers insist that the passengers give them anything of value that is on them before they search the luggage. What no one knows is that the businessman has a large sum of cash in a case strapped to the top of the stage coach. He doesn’t want the robbers to make off with that so he tells them of the money in the women’s hat. His fellow passengers are aghast. How could he do such a thing? They don’t learn of his motives until they arrive in town; he repays the woman her life savings, plus a little more.
My point in sharing this story is that we often judge people when we don’t have all the facts. In our Self Defeating Habits of Otherwise Brilliant People® workshop, we call this first assumption thinking. In the story, everyone assumed the businessman was just a jerk who was in a hurry to get to the next stop and couldn’t be inconvenienced by anyone or anything. In reality, he was assigned to protect a large sum of cash to be delivered in the next town in order to close an important transaction. It takes discipline to look for the reason for a person’s behavior and not jump to the conclusion that they are behaving in a way that is rude or inconsiderate. Next time you witness someone acting in a way that is contrary to how you believe they should, stop and ask yourself – why? Why would they behave this way? There is a reason for their behavior; you just don’t know what it is until you find out why. Stopping to question why, remaining calm, being curious and concerned, is the only pathway to dialogue and problem solving. Let me know what your experience has been. Post your comments here.