I was horribly rude today.
Without even knowing it.
I arrived at work just a little after 8:30 and as I got my chair off the bus and into the lobby, the fellow I was meeting was also arriving. I had just hit the 'door open' button and was watching it swing slowly open. He, a genuinely nice guy, asked, 'Would you like some help onto the elevator?' I said, 'No, no, that's all right.' He looked a little surprised but nodded and said, 'Well, then, I'll see you upstairs.'
Door open, I rolled in and got on the elevator. Just as the door was closing I heard what he had actually said to me out there in the lobby. I became convinced that I had misheard him. He had said, 'Would you like some company on the elevator?' And that friendly gesture was turned down.
What had happened, was that after years in the wheelchair and saying, 'No, no, thanks,' to hundreds of offers to help, my ears were hearing what they expected him to say, not what he had actually said.
I don't want this to happen to me. I don't want what usually happens to block out what actually happens. I don't want to start seeing future interactions through the expectations built from past interchanges. I don't want to be the guy who begins to misunderstand his life because he's living one life based on assumption and expectation rather than the other life - the real one happening around him. I don't want to expect prejudice and then find it. I don't want to expect diminishment and then experience it. NO.
I don't want to become that.
I rolled off the elevator mortified. Here a nice guy had offered to share a ride on the elevator with me. Believe me, given the speed of the elevator, that's a generous, generous offer. So I got into my office and when he came in I said to him, 'What did you say to me downstairs about the elevator?' He looked curiously at me and said, 'I asked if you wanted company,' and before I could say anything he said, 'and I completely understand that you may have wanted time on your own, I don't always want people around me in the morning either.' Talk about nice, he was taking me being rude and making it an OK kind of thing.
I said, 'No, I didn't hear you. I thought you'd offered help. I would have gladly shared the ride.' Then I explained to him how this came to be and apologized again to him for hearing what wasn't said rather than what was. He was good about it. He even laughed.
But, man, oh man, I've gotta be more careful.