Have you heard the term? The word has a lot of applications, but I am speaking about the coupling of experiences. I first heard it used this way while listening to the audiobook, Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell (maybe the most important book to come out in 2019).
The premise of Gladwell’s use of coupling dealt with how specific circumstances provide an opportunity for people’s actions. Though Gladwell is specifically speaking of suicide and how, say the Goldengate bridge doesn’t have a safety net to prevent people from killing themselves, provides an opportunity for people to jump when they may not have. Gladwell, of course, goes into more detail and addresses the topic to a deeper degree.
It made me think about what other situations have a coupling experience. I thought of the impatient person in a Walmart line or someone difficult at the customer service counter. Of course, there can be an infinite amount of scenarios. Could the aggravated, edgy, rude person be having a coupling experience? To be honest I am very judgemental toward people like that…but then I remember…
Though I work really hard to be super patient, gracious and kind to cashiers, customer service reps, and the like, there was one particular day I wasn’t…
My printer had been acting up so I took it into Staples where I had bought it 13 months earlier. When I told them it was broken they informed me that the warranty was only for 12 months. I sternly informed them I won’t be buying another printer from them again, dropped the printer on the desk and walked out. It was not my proudest moment.
Say I were observing someone else have this same interaction I would think, “What a jerk”. I would apologize to the customer service rep on behalf of the rude customer and cast judgement on the former. Instead of grace, what God has called me to express in all situations, I would offer condemnation. The thing is, this story is about me. I give myself grace because I know what was going on in my life. In fact, if it were not for the coupling of events in my life—a perfect storm if you will—I certainly wouldn’t have left my broken printer (with a thud) at Staples. I still would never buy a printer from them again, they just wouldn’t know why.
I can extend myself grace because I had shingles at the time, the church was going through a very hard season which caused me a lot of hurt, and I didn’t have the money for a new printer. Physical, emotional, and financial pain brewed together to make a bitter tea of discontent that anyone could have upset (although 12 months for a printer…really!).
I can extend grace to myself because I know the whole coupling story of my own life. I know what was going on inside me and all around me. We don’t, however, know what is going on with everyone else. Yes, there are some people who are entitled, angry, cotton-headed ninny muggins. Call me naive, but I don’t think everyone is like that. I do believe that life’s woes can have a coupling effect on people and bystanders end up carrying the brunt.
Instead of assuming the worst of others we need to try and deescalate, seek understanding, and be patient even in the midst of their impatience. I guess this could be part of loving our enemies and why it so important to treat people as we would want to be treated. It isn’t just about us not acting crazy. Sometimes it’s about not responding to other peoples’ craziness. Want to know how to deal with that jerk in line? Love, grace, and patience.