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Caution: Stay back over 100 feet. Not responsible for road objects.

We’ve all been behind gravel trucks with these signs affixed to the back. They rumble along the road, occasionally spitting bits and pieces at your windshield. You begin to think, “Ok, these guys aren’t kidding. I’d better give them some breathing room,” and you put some distance between them and you.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that they could claim no responsibility just by gluing a sign to the back of their trucks. Like maybe I could call my family for supper but begin with a disclaimer: “Caution: Not responsible for undercooked meats or burnt vegetables. In the case of complaining about this meal, expect long delays in future dessert distribution.” Or I could hot glue a sign on the back of my minivan: “Not responsible for speeding if I’m running late.” Somehow I don’t think that would hold up in traffic court.

Still, they may be on to something with these signs. There are days when a little warning would be helpful.

When a co-worker is in a snit about every line item mentioned in a meeting, it would be nice to read his sign: “My marriage is falling apart. Pay no attention to my outbursts.” When the mom of a kid in your child’s class won’t answer repeated emails and texts about what she’s bringing to the class Valentine party, you would benefit from her sign reading, “My dad is really sick and I am barely holding on. Sending in sprinkles on Friday might just push me over the edge.” Then, you would be able to respond from a better place.

When my kids come home from school, frustrated by a classmate who just can’t seem to get it together—he yelled at the teacher, flipped a desk, made the entire class lose recess time—I put this “wouldn’t it be nice to have a sign” theory into practice. I say, “What he did was wrong, but we have no idea what’s happening at home. Your best choice is to give him lots of grace and let the teacher figure it out.”

In the absence of WARNING signs, we can also impart grace. We don’t have to be doormats, offering no resistance in the face of poor treatment, but we can meet them from a place of love and understanding—even if we don’t actually understand.

Instead of replying to bad behavior with accusations, we could start off with something like: “What’s going on? I’m worried about you.” Your concern might be met with more venom or it might be just the door they’ve been waiting for.



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