The crying child and the mean old man

“Wahhhh. Wahh. Wah. WAHHHHH!”

Sat in the waiting room at the doctors, this was what I heard.

“Wahhhh. Wahh. Wah. WAHHHHH!”

There was a kid who wasn’t very well. There was also an old man who wasn’t very well. 

The old man’s reaction to the crying kid went something like this: Sigh. Sigh louder. Turn around and glare at the kid and the parents. He then turned to his wife and said, loud enough so the parents can hear: “They need to do something to shut that kid up. There must be something wrong with it.”

A child wailing isn’t the most pleasant sound, especially when you’re ill. But come on. I don’t care how sick or old you are. There’s no excuse for being so rude and insensitive and mean.

As the doctor was walking out to the waiting room to summon the next patient, I heard the old man say: “Oh. This must be us.” It wasn’t. I was next up. You can wait a bit longer you mean, old man.

Walking home, I was thinking about the episode. I wondered to myself, what has to happen for someone to become like that?

Perhaps he was born that way? I doubt that. Humans aren’t born mean and cruel? Are they?

Perhaps he’s had a hard life, filled with much pain, suffering and loss?

Perhaps he’s had the opposite? A life filled with riches and luxuries that has made him intolerant to everything.

Perhaps he’s had an average life and made some bad choices, which now, he regrets. Perhaps he’s projecting his own self-hatred and dissatisfaction onto others?

Perhaps he woke up this morning feeling bad. Perhaps his mean spirit is temporary? A consequence of his current state of illness?

I don’t know. But there’s two things you and I can take from the story of the mean, old man.

First. As Marcus Aurelius says, “the best revenge is not to be like that.” We have role models, people we aspire to be. But we can also have anti-models, people we want to avoid becoming.

Second. There’s nothing we can do about these people. We can’t change them or make them see the error of their ways. But we can remember this quote from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. The young protagonist, Kvothe, has just had an encounter with an ignorant and arrogant villager. He tells his father about the episode. Kvothe’s father ruffles his hair and says:

“Just pity him, my boy. Tomorrow we’ll be on our way, but he’ll have to keep his own disagreeable company until the day he dies.”