I Didn’t Do It!

My keys got locked inside my car today. I didn’t do it. My extra set of keys has been missing for two weeks. The ensuing exchange with the culprit got me thinking, not for the first time, about something I think of as the “kindness-skew” dilemma (yes, sometimes when it is a particularly heated “dilemma”, there is an extra letter added to that second word).

This kindness-skew dilemma phenomenon can be clarified by presenting two keys-locked-in-the-car scenarios. So, indulge me, as I lay the ground work to get to my point.

Scenario 1: Pam, a close friend of mine, stopped by for a brief morning chat and coffee. As she was leaving, knowing I had to leave very soon for work, she thoughtfully asked if she should start my car. “That would be great.” I said. The Minnesota winter has begun. Moments later, she came running back into my house.

“Pauline,” she said, “please tell me you have an extra set of keys!” My stomach dropped. “Oh, oh,” I said “I lost my other set last week.” Pam spurted out, “Shit! I locked your keys in your car. With the motor running! I am so, so sorry. I can’t believe I did this!” She was frantic.

“Pam,” I said, “it’s O.K. Really. I’ve locked my keys in my car more than once. I understand. We’ll figure this out.” Inside I was panicking because I really needed to get to work on time. Quickly, however, my mind turned to finding a solution. “First let’s search the house for my lost keys. If we can’t find them, we will call a locksmith, or the police, to help us.” We began to search….

Scenario 2: Same thing happened but the person to lock the keys in my car was my husband. When he came in from starting the car, he said, “Honey, please tell me you found your lost keys”

I froze, “Oh, no, don’t tell me you locked the keys in the car.” I could see on his face and hear in his voice how terrible he felt, “Yes I did. I can’t figure out how it happened. I am really sorry.” I was getting angrier by the second. Inside I was thinking, “this is just like him! Not being careful, rushing, not paying attention. He’s so careless, etc…”

My voice raised, “Steeeeeeeve, how could you have done this? Weren’t you paying attention? What am I supposed to do now? I am late for work the way it is!” Cursing under my breath, I stomped around and looked for my lost keys. He had already begun to search.

THUS, the kindness-skew dilemma. Get it?

Why, oh why, are we harder on the people we love the most? It just doesn’t make any sense. Why can’t we cut the same slack to our husband (and children) that we give to our friends and acquaintances?

Steve is an unbelievably nice guy, and has taught me a lot about kindness. The longer I live with this wonderful man, the more I learn about taking a step back before blaming, or lashing out.

This has led us to a marriage mantra that states: practice kindness toward each other. Easy, right? Friends and family who I have shared this with are astonished when they take a step back and realize how often they aren’t kind to their spouse. It’s such a simple thing, they say. And yet, it is very difficult to do because of the communication ruts dug over so many years. Steve and I were lucky; he never allowed the ruts to start.

Steve was the one to lock up the keys. For the sake of illustration and contrast, I amplified my reaction toward him in that scenario. For instance, I didn’t stomp. However, I surely did not react with understanding; I did immediately throw out blame.

By the way, within about two minutes, I found my missing keys in a jacket pocket (Whew!). I apologized to Steve for my nasty reaction. He accepted my apology. We kissed and I was soon on my way to work, smiling.