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Nikki Owen: Kindness and the benefit of the doubt

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So, it was about a month ago. It was just after the last easing of lockdown rules in April.  I’d been for a swim, and was climbing out of the pool, walking along the side when I spotted a swim cap on the floor. 

The woman in front of me nearly slipped on the swim cap, so I went to pick it up and pop it out of harm’s way, when a lady in the pool shouted at me. “Put that down,” she said. I smiled. “I’m just moving it just so no one slips on it.” The lady swam over, then repeated for me to put the hat down. Again, I smiled. “I’m just trying to help.” Again, she shouted.

I hesitated then I thought – oh no, was she thinking I was trying to steal it? So, I quickly reassured her I wasn’t taking the cap. Yet still her reply came, “Put it back.” At which point, I placed the hat where I’d found it, delivered a nervous smile and inched away.

After, in the changing room, a couple of the women who’d seen the incident, commented. “Well that was uncalled for,” one said. “She was very aggressive,” said the other. “You were only trying to help. Who on earth does she think she is?”

I listened to the women comment and thought, why aren’t I reacting to this? And then I knew. “I haven’t got a clue what sort of morning that woman’s had,” I found myself saying. “She may have had some bad news or the worst year through COVID. Thing is, I don’t know. We’ve all been through a lot, we just need to give each other a little space. The kindest thing I can say to her is that I hope that she’s okay.”

I thought about this incident as Boris made his latest announcements last week.  A lot from the last lockdown is now about to change. Again. This time for the better. Things are opening back up, we can hug (I miss hugs), pubs and restaurants will be places where we can finally sit inside. And yet, so much has gone before it. 

The pandemic has changed us all, I think, in very different ways at different times. A year’s cumulative effect of anxieties, loss, worry, uncertainty, and that’s before we’ve even tackled what’s going on in our general lives. 

And I think that’s the thing that both that day with the woman at the pool and life in lockdown  remind me of – we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives. 

So, what would happen if we bear that in mind now as we go forward? What if, as we all try to adjust to the next new normal, we pause for a moment before we react to people? What if we give them the benefit of the doubt? How would that feel?

This is not an excuse for bad behavior, instead this is a call for compassion. We all have moments where we react angrily or when we are not our best selves for (often very emotional) reasons known only to us. 

I guess what I’m saying is we never can tell, simply by looking at someone, what they are really going through. 

And so, as we all walk into what’s next, what if we really try to see each other and, when things get heated as they sometimes do, we repeat the words together: I hope you are okay. 

Nikki Owen is an author and endurance athlete living in Stroud.

Instagram @nikkiowen_author_athlete

Twitter @nikkiwriter

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