An Unexpected Wake-Up Call


So there we were, my daughter and I, nestled in our seats at an off-Broadway play in the Big Apple. The show was Mr. Burns, a smart, offbeat play in which cartoon character Bart Simpson and his friends help a post-apocalyptic America recover.

Since every word counted, my daughter and I were the picture of rapt concentration. Yet we struggled to hear what the actors were saying.

Now, it’s easy for anyone who’s had too much wine at dinner beforehand to fall asleep in the darkened theater. And someone apparently had. We heard deep, regular breaths. Loud guttural snoring.

The entire theater audience started to fidget. A woman three rows ahead of us stood up to see who had fallen asleep. Assuming it was a man, I said to my daughter, “Wouldn’t you think someone sitting near him would wake him up?”

No one did. The snorer was so loud that he was upstaging the actors’ rapid-fire dialogue. And the snoring continued for the entire first act.

How could someone be so rude?

I decided the snoring was intentionally being pumped through the speakers as another way of eliciting emotion from the audience. Especially since the actors didn’t seem to be bothered at all. How clever of them, I thought. It was a ploy.

Still, I decided that I was tired of being “had.” Whether this was a real person disturbing us or a trick of the play, I would leave at intermission. At Intermission, I turned to the couple next to us to share my irritation. The theater had emptied as patrons streamed into the lobby for the short break. That’s when everything changed.

We all saw her. At the far end of our row, an older woman sat in a wheelchair next an oxygen tank, which was hooked to a ventilator in her mouth. The “snoring” was her ventilator. She was alert, though unable to move. It dawned on us that she was here to enjoy the play. Just like the rest of us.

It’s all in your perception, isn’t it? The second act began, and I tuned out her “snoring.” Of course, it was only right that she shared the play with us. We could hear over her.

This story reinforces what I tell my audiences and clients on a regular basis: Your brain believes everything you tell it. In that scenario, I chose not to remain offended.

Our five senses constantly deliver data for our brains to interpret. At the play, I let my assumptions get in the way of really hearing. In my six-step process, step two, which is Adjust, allows us the precious freedom to redefine how we hear and see the world around us.

Next time someone disrupts your life, tell yourself, “I choose not be offended.” You may just find a woman on a ventilator that explains it all.