Being an asshole is a matter of perspective

I could see through the two window shields into her car.  Her forehead creased into a petulant frown and she mouthed the words over dramatically.


Five minutes earlier, I was packing up my papers at the nursing home when my pager went off.  I fumbled for the desk phone, my arms constrained by the bulky winter jacket I had just climbed into.  I tapped my feet and waited impatiently for someone to pick up the line.

Hello, hello Dr. Grumet?  I think she’s dying.  Can you come now?

The ICU nurse sounded panicky.  It was early in the morning and the critical care specialist wasn’t in the building.  I jumped out of my seat and sprinted toward the car.  The trip was less than a mile.  I turned onto the expressway and then made a right onto to the nearest exit.  I stealthily navigated a series of small streets punctuated by a stop sign.  As I came to the intersection another car pulled up facing me.  Seeing her right turn signal and knowing I was going straight, I made a superficial attempt at stopping and then rolled through.

While passing, I could see the anger seethe from her lips for my failing to abide by the most basic rules of the road.  She was furious.  I felt like laughing.  If she only knew that I was racing to the hospital in the most dire of circumstances.

It was a matter of perspective.  But I couldn’t be too angry.

Hadn’t I been just as guilty?   How many times had I shook my head disapprovingly as an elderly patient hobbled into my office thirty minutes late?  Had I fumbled with the icy certainty of arthritic joints or the Himalayan distances crossed in the parking lot, maybe I would understand differently.

It is shockingly easy to regret the futile decisions of  a panicking family when it’s not your loved one lying in the hospital bed.

Perspective and empathy.  Different sides of the same coin.

The women in the car was right.

I had been everything she hauntingly accused me of.

At times.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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  • carolynthomas

    Ouch. A timely reminder to walk a few miles (or coast slowly through a few stop signs) in somebody else’s shoes. Thanks for this, Dr. G.

  • ninguem

    Man walks into a bar and yells: “All lawyers are assholes”

    Guy at the bar turns around and says “I resent that”

    Bartender says “I bet you’re a lawyer, aren’t you?”

    Guy at the bar says “No, I’m an asshole”

    Yeah, I know, it’s an old one……….

  • Rob Burnside

    And all this time, I thought “asshole” was two words! Really and truly, it does take two–humans, that is. It’s like that old tree falling in the forest thing. Serious question: Aren’t we the only critters capable of blushing? Good story, Doc!

  • Wendy Belgard Hanawalt

    Great point from the other perspective. (I admit to being the woman mouthing the expletive.) As part of my stress-reduction process, whenever I’m annoyed by people in traffic, I try to remember just this: that I don’t know their story, that there may be a reason for their “stupidity” that I will never know. It works to bring that perspective into all our interactions with strangers.

  • Andrea Miano Light

    Remember Stephen Covey’s story about the guy on the subway with the 3 unruly kids? The lady should read it; heck, we all should read it more often until empathy becomes second nature.

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