This year Nancy’s birthday and Easter fell on the same day. We both worked on Easter so we decided to go out for dinner. We headed south to Letchworth State Park – a favorite place for Nancy. It houses the Glen Iris Inn a century old home facing on a beautiful waterfall on the Genesee River that has been turned into an inn and restaurant.
As we were being seated I noticed an older couple seated at the next table. They were dressed in their Easter finery but their voices were cold and sharp as they spoke to one another. Initially we could not hear what was being said but as our dinner and their conversation progressed it became clear that the woman was upset with the man and was using this as an opportunity to tell him just what she thought of him, his actions and his relationship with her.
As we received our salads her voice got louder and hard edged, and we clearly heard occasional derogatory and demeaning phrases that were spit out at him. By the end of the meal Nancy and I were both uncomfortable and feeling sorry for the man even though not knowing whether or not he merited the tongue lashing.
As we left the restaurant an hour and half after arriving – they were finishing dessert and she was still on the attack. As we reached the outside of the restaurant it was as if we were leaving a toxic atmosphere. We felt better getting away from her.
I don’t know the whole story, I don’t know what experiences shaped her. I do know that for over and hour and half she vented, dumped on and bullied her dinner partner on this day dedicated to a celebration of new and abundant life. She turned their dinner into a negative experience for him and in some smaller way poisoned the atmosphere for those around them.
A different approach might have been resulted in a conversation ending in better understanding or changes that could have improved their rapport. Attack results in defensiveness which usually does not bring about positive change. Or as Proverbs 15:1 states it “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Some years ago I heard this prayer “O Lord help make my words sweet. For I may have to eat them tomorrow.”