Dealing with a few afflictions my whole life has been a gift, in reality. It’s called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurological disorder in the family of Muscular Dystrophy. It came along with scoliosis and foot structure issues, as well as some other fun stuff, all in a tidy package.
The afflictions create a unique gait, often inducing a comment from an insensitive inquirer like “Whadya do to your leg?”
And yeah, it can hurt like hell. Every day.
On my more self-conscious days, it’s embarrassing to walk ahead of co-workers, knowing that my odd gait cannot go unnoticed. On work trips, when everyone is thinking, “We can walk to dinner from the hotel,” I’m sweating bullets because I know the 5 blocks will be painful, and pride won’t let me call a cab for the short trip.
But you know what?
Because a long time ago I began ingraining four words in my psyche that keep everything in perspective; that keep me on track with my preferred positive attitude and others-oriented outlook.
Everyone has their thing.
My discomforts pale in comparison to what others go through.
Over the years, I’ve been astonished at what I’ve uncovered behind the scenes at work, what others were going through while trying to keep it together.
A co-worker caring for an utterly incapacitated partner; a victim of excruciating back problems.
A co-worker trying to come to grips with the heartbreaking effects of a parent stricken with Alzheimer’s.
A boss dealing with a shocking suicide.
I don’t have enough space in this column. And I guarantee you’d find the same (or already have).
While the luggage everyone is carrying in their life isn’t all as devastating to the naked eye as these things, everyone has their thing, and it’s devastating to them.
Maybe it’s someone quietly dealing with a total loss in self-confidence, exacerbated by an unforgiving boss. Or maybe it’s a co-worker who has just found out that the promotion they’ve been working towards for years, the one that’s a big part of their self-identity, is never going to come.
Everyone has their thing.
Doesn’t this human truth warrant a default to compassion in the workplace — and everywhere? Doesn’t it merit a careful consideration of your words and actions before you judge, or worse yet, lash out, at a frustrating co-worker?
In a world filled with Ubers and airlines going off the callous deep-end, isn’t it time for an infusion of empathy in the workplace?
Boo-hoo. I have some physical inconveniences in my life. I’m much more worried about the 99.5 percent of people who have it worse than me. And I’m most worried about workplaces too light on compassion.
So keep their thing in mind before you do your thing — even if you have no idea what their thing is. Assume it’s there and let it remold and reshape your interactions.
We need these 4 words top of mind. Right now. More than ever I’d argue.
This story originally appeared on Inc.com