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The Cinco De Mayo Blog

My 16-year-old daughter started her first job, working in fast food, this past year. After a particularly harrowing day at work, she came home and vented to me. She talked about a woman becoming angry when her order wasn’t correct. The lady yelled and cussed at whomever was in earshot. My daughter asked me, “Why would someone throw such a fit over messed up tacos?”

Why, indeed? Why do people act the way they do sometimes? There could be many reasons, and none of them are just about messed up tacos. I don’t know this lady or her age, but my mind spins so many possibilities. Maybe it’s about addiction or chronic pain. Maybe my daughter said, “May I help you?” a little too gruff, and the lady perceived it as yelling. Maybe she was on her way back from making decisions about pulling life support for a loved one. Maybe she’s heading to divorce court. Maybe Child Protective Services just showed up and took her kids. Maybe the dog died last week. Maybe she just failed the test that lost her the scholarship. Maybe she was awarded the sports scholarship but just found out she is pregnant. Maybe her parents won’t accept her for who she loves. Maybe she doesn’t have parents present at all and was never taught. Maybe she just retired from working 50 years and found a lump. Maybe they yell at you because they have to yell or no one listens. Maybe they get loud because they think they have no voice any other way.

I’m not saying that any of these reasons excuses the behavior. The behavior is what it is, and it’s there in that place and time. We can’t change that, but we can change how we think about it and approach it. It’s a long-practiced technique in the mental health field to approach behaviors from the standpoint of curiosity instead of judgement. Curiosity leads to seeking understanding. Curiosity diffuses anger.

I want to say to my daughter, it’s never just about messed up tacos. There is likely much more to it. Something has upset this person who was put on your path today, and you can’t control that. But you do get to choose how you respond. No matter how they act, you can stay you. Don’t let them change you. If you hold up a mirror and reflect back their fire, both of you get burned. When someone is that upset, you keep your cool, even if you have to walk away and go get a manager.

If you’re out celebrating Cinco, and a 16-year-old messes up your tacos, you try to keep your cool too. Recognize that these are children and not miniature adults. Their impulse control, emotional regulation, and reasoning won’t be fully mature until close to mid-twenties. They are doing their best to hold it together. Don’t be their last straw.

If we all seek to understand each other, to understand that someone’s bad day likely doesn’t have anything to do with you, person they just met, it will help us to not take it personally. Another well-known therapy technique I really like is saying to yourself, “Wow! That was a bad five minutes, but I don’t have to make it a bad whole day.” And then you go on and enjoy your day. Enjoy your tacos. Happy Cinco!


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