I work out at least 4 days a week. On Mondays and Wednesdays my workouts are pretty strenuous usually consisting of about an hour and half of pretty intense weight lifting followed by an hour of high impact spin aerobics. Tuesdays and Thursdays are relatively light consisting of swimming for a half of a mile (15 laps in the pool) including a 30 second rest after each lap. You might think I enjoy working out but I really don’t. I do it because I feel so good afterwards and I know it’s necessary for optimum health at my age. The best part of the workout is the post workout recovery, consisting of ten minutes in a hot whirlpool spa, fifteen minutes in the steam room and ending with a five-minute cool shower. My workouts are solitary affairs. I just want to get in and get out as fast as I can, with no interruptions for casual conversations or anything else.
Yesterday after my Thursday swim, there was a young man coming out of the steam room with huge bucket. He was apparently frustrated by the fact the menthol reservoir was empty meaning that pleasant, sinus opening sensation was not going to happen that day. I personally didn’t care as long as the steam was hot but clearly, the young man did. With a look of resignation and disappointment on his face, he sat down at the far end of steam room on the slab facing the door while I prepared to sit down at the opposite end near the door.
“Is this your towel”, I said almost sitting on a towel someone left on my slab.
“No”, he said and that began a conversation, consisting mostly of a rant protesting how inconsiderate a small minority of people at the club can be.
The interesting thing about this conversation is that over the entire 15 minutes of it, all I did was nod in agreement to everything he said and I made two statements that combined used a total of ten words. About a third of the way into the conversation I said, “There’s no substitute for home training” and about two thirds through it I said, “Everybody’s got a story”.
I should tell you that this was a very likeable young man. He was white and appeared to be in his mid to late thirties. He impressed me as well educated, goal oriented and very responsible. If I had to guess, I would say he was a classical conservative Republican, and I don’t in any way mean that in a derogatory sense. I mean that the impression he gave me was that he believes in things like self-reliance, the rule of law and free trade, all of which I consider to be admirable traits.
I moved the discarded towel out of his and my way and sat down. The young man proceeded to tell me how he loathed and despised people who shirked their responsibility to be considerate to others and in so doing preserve the quality of the facility for everyone. He talked about how it was not the maintenance people’s job to come in the steam room and remove dirty towels. He talked about how he frequently took it onto his self to use his towel to pick up the dirty towel and properly discard both of them. He speculated that the kind of people who did that sort of thing were selfish and thought the world owed them something. He went on to talk about how one of his coworkers almost was fired after a near altercation with another coworker who had victimized the first coworker in a similar way. After going on this way for about five minutes he finally paused. It was at that time that I said, “There’s no substitute for home training “.
For next five minutes, he speculated on speculated on the kind of home training the towel offender had. He surmised that he were to visit that person’s house he would probably find that person’s home looked like a pig sty. He continued describing what that would look like for a while, and then his speculation shifted. “If that was the case, that person probably didn’t have parents who properly taught him the value of order and cleanliness”, he said. He went on to describe several scenarios that would render a person incapable of exercising the social skills to behave appropriately in a venue like a health club. It was at that time, I made the statement, “everybody’s got a story”.
His conversation shifted again to circumstances that would explain why even a well socialized person would leave a towel in the steam room. “It could have been one of those old people we see around here from time to time, who can barely walk. He could have stood up and couldn’t bend back down again to pick up the towel”, he said. He then proceeded to talk about how you can’t really judge people without knowing the circumstance involved in their situation. After about five minutes of that, I got up to leave at his next pause. Before I left, I use one end of my towel to pick up the discarded towel. “I’ll just get this out of your way”, I said as I was leaving. “Oh, thank you so much sir, you’re very kind and I appreciate that. Have a good evening “, he said as I was leaving.
I thought about the incident as I was driving home. I had no attachment to the young man or anything he was saying. Still I listened to what he had to say without judgment or the need to fix his problem. Yet by being there, and listening to his ideas and opinions, he was able to work through his problems on his own. He was obviously having a bad day that had nothing to do with dirty towels or empty eucalyptus cans, but those circumstances were the triggers that catalyzed the venting of his frustrations about things he probably couldn’t discuss publically or with strangers. I had almost no input into the shift of attitude that led him from absolutely condemning the towel offender to empathizing with him and the circumstances that may have led to his inappropriate behavior. The lesson for me is that the most loving thing you can do for another human being is to listen to him/her without judgment. That is the first step to solving all of the world’s problems. To do so is to love. John Lennon had it right. “All you need is love”.