Monday, September 28, 2009

Almost Mad Today

I almost got mad today. I am traveling to Europe, and had the unfortunate experience of getting into the slowest passport control line available this morning. This is not a good thing after flying all night and only getting a couple hours of sleep. I was watching the other lanes continue forward at a much faster pace than the one I was standing in. I was committed, though, with no way to switch, knowing that switching meant going to the end of a different line and risking that one suddenly becoming slower. I was stuck. Frustrated. Tired. Grumpy.

I almost got mad. I was beginning to get all steamed up about the incompetence of the officer in the booth ahead of me. Clearly this man was a systemic obstacle to efficiency and needed to be beaten with a stick. He was delaying everyone in his line and I could see that others were visibly frustrated with his lack of processing speed. The thought was boiling up within me that he doesn’t care about us and is intentionally wasting our time. I was starting to consider him as not only incompetent but evil.

Then I realized how tired I was. I tried to stem my anger, brushing it off as just my less-than-fully-awake state. Then the thought occurred to me: he might also be near the end of his shift and running on less than full perkiness. He might have been approaching the end of his shift and in need of a break from the fast-paced scrutinization of passport after passport. I started to feel sorry for the guy and let my mind wander about the scenarios he might have been through to put him in this less-than-optimal processing pace.

When I was about fifteen people away from the front, another lane opened right next to mine. I jumped into it and, in so doing, cut the line ahead of me in half. Wouldn’t you know, my new line ground to a halt and my original line picked up. I made it up to the counter just a couple people ahead of where I would have been in the original line. The officer behind the window was not incompetent and processed me through passport control very quickly.

So, a new thought entered my mind: the original line was slow because the particular mix of people ahead of me were especially complicated to process and clear. Perhaps the delay had nothing to do with the officer at the head of the line, that they were all roughly equal in their ability, and that the delay was beyond their control. All anger within me was defused, because I realized that, in the end, I had no idea why the lanes were slow when they were.

My only conclusion is that, when I am in a situation that starts to frustrate me, I should not jump to conclusions about the cause and start blaming people. I will most likely be wrong, and if so, making a fuss would only make a fool out of myself (or worse).

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