How NOT to Achieve Harmony

I chose to be part of the OneWord365 movement this year – the idea being that instead of making New Year’s resolutions, you select a single word and focus on it for a full year, noting how it influences your life each day. I chose “harmony” as my word for 2013. This is my update on how it’s going.


Metra trainThe first clue is the muttering and swearing. It’s 6:30 in the morning and the train will be arriving shortly. No one has an extra few minutes; we’re all on autopilot, just trying to get to work as painlessly as possible.

The man ahead of me in line at the parking fee kiosk is now pounding the side of the machine and angrily accusing the Village officials who maintain the parking facility of everything from laziness to greed to criminal corruption.

My offer of a different dollar bill – maybe his was too wrinkled … or not wrinkled enough? – doesn’t even phase him.

“It’s not taking dollar bills. The *^$#@ machine is broken and they don’t care ‘cause if you don’t pay the fee, you’re going to get a ticket for $55 and that’s more money in their pockets. Bunch of bums.”

Mind you, I don’t make a habit of engaging in conversation with strangers first thing in the morning. (I purposely sit in the designated “quiet car” on the train to avoid it.) And I had already stepped in dog poop at 5:00 a.m. (in my house slippers!) before I even got to the coffee pot. So it’s not like my day had got off to a stellar start.


I walked to the next kiosk with Mr. Grumpy, about a block away, and on the way I learned a few things about him that changed my initial assumptions.

He was in pain. He was recovering from severe bronchitis and it had taken its toll. A fit of severe coughing the night before had cracked a couple of ribs and torn some muscles in his chest, sending him to the emergency room. He was there for hours. But here he was, trying to get to work because he had projects that had to be completed and he just couldn’t take the day off.

As he talked, he shared how patient his wife was and how kind the medical personnel at the ER had been. He was glad to have a job and he was proud of a little device someone had given him that hung around his neck, designed to clean the air he was breathing. He held it up to show me.

Later, as the train pulled into the station in Chicago, Mr. Grumpy walked past my seat and quietly admonished me to “have yourself a good day”. With a smile.

My thoughts returned to that man several times during the day and as they did, I gleaned a few insights from my encounter with him.

Lessons I needed to learn about how NOT to achieve harmony in my life on a given day.

  • Assume you know another’s motives. Mr. Grumpy was quick to believe that negligence and greed were behind the broken fee collection machine. He assumed the worst, took it personally and was about to let it ruin his day. And you know what? I was  >this close<  to agreeing with him. I mean, it does kind of happen a lot when you commute on public transportation.
  • Depersonalize your nemesis. “Bunch of bums” who “don’t care”, “worthless bureaucrats”. He was convinced. I was just as guilty of depersonalizing this angry man trying to cram his dollar bill into the machine. I defaulted to believing he was yet another unhappy commuter to be avoided. But talking to him and learning a little about him, he became human.
  • Jump to conclusions. They don’t fix the equipment because they don’t care? Maybe. But maybe they don’t know the machine is broken; it could have happened just moments before we walked up. Stuff breaks. But I do the same thing, I jump to conclusions when I should really stop and ask myself, “Do I know that to be true?” In many cases, the answer is no.
  • Limit the possibilities. Reducing alternatives to either/or certainly simplifies things, but the result may not be accurate. Mr. Grumpy ended up smiling and reflecting on some positives before the train arrived. (And we both successfully paid for our parking.) Could that have been the point? I need to remind myself that whatever the inconvenience or conflict I’m currently engaged in, it may be meant for another purpose than just to irritate me.
  • Stay in your isolation bubble. I’ve stood next to Mr. Grumpy for months on the train platform in the dark and cold, without ever engaging with him on a human level. Now I see him – and myself – differently.

As a Christian, I believe God is always about refining my character and giving me opportunities to grow, even through the negative events. If I look for other possibilities and positives in the situation, I might actually see His hand and experience more harmony in my life.

But please don’t take this as an open invitation to talk to me when I’m in commuter zombie mode. I’m on that quiet car for a reason. 🙂

Any tips you can add about how NOT to achieve harmony? Please leave a comment for the rest of us!

About Diane Rivers

Diane is a native Floridian whose career as an FBI Agent got her transferred to the North. She's retired from that gig now and "repurposed" as a freelance writer, author, and sometimes poet who blogs about the bumpy, bone-jostling ride of her “workaround” life. She loves Jesus, her family, black coffee, kayaking, biking, and hiking, and she looks forward to eternity with the One who will make all things beautiful. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

5 thoughts on “How NOT to Achieve Harmony”

  1. This is a lovely story: thanks for sharing it with us! It is always good to hear of these events because it opens us up to receiving the same. I travel to work by a bus most days, and too often jump to conclusions about my fellow travelers. Thanks for the reminder to take a deep breath, and aim for empathy.

    1. The conclusions I jump to probably say more about me than my fellow travelers! I really do need to regularly ask myself, “Do I know that to be true?” when I make assumptions about others. “Aim for empathy” – good advice.

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