Updated: Mar 1, 2020
I had an interesting and eye opening experience a few days ago. I stopped in at a gas station on my way to teach a yoga class right after finishing up with my clients for the day. I was pretty hungry and trying to make it to the studio on time, so I quickly pulled in to the front of the store and ran in. A nice man with a friendly smile was outside, and we exchanged greetings. He was in need of spare change, which can be off-putting for some, but the value of kindness also goes a long way as well, so I smiled and recognized a purity in him that was comforting.
As I was standing in line to pay for my granola bar, I noticed a woman outside parked next to me, yelling at the man. I recognized immediately that she was angry and was taking that anger out on him. Not an uncommon reaction, considering not everyone takes kindly to the less fortunate, but she was FURIOUS.
A moment later she was inside, demanding to know, "who is driving the white Nissan parked out front?"
Oops. That was me. I turn to acknowledge her, "yes, that's my car." To which she began taking her rage out on me for parking too close to the line, and insisting that if she damages my vehicle then it will be "my fault, not hers," and I "better not" get her tag number and report her..."or else."
Let's pause here.
What do you think your reaction would have been in this scenario if this were you? This woman was furious! She openly caused a scene because of something YOU had done, and was trying to belittle, embarrass, and scare you. Would this make you angry also? Or would you feel hurt and worried that you actually had done something wrong? Would you feel a little fearful or uncertain that she might take it too far and harm you?
To be honest, I'm sure I looked pretty confused, and I didn't say anything at all. The other customers in line had their own feelings about the situation...some of them shaking their heads in disbelief, one man trying to ensure me that everything was okay, and another lady muttering, "you reap what you sow."
Still a little blindsided, I instantly had the thought: "Wow. She must have had a terrible day." I began to wonder what it could have been that caused her to have such an awful reaction to my parking, or to the kind man outside asking for change. What was THAT BAD, I thought, that she made the effort to come inside and point out my mistake?
Of course I don't know the answer to that question, and probably won't, unless she somehow ends up in my office one day to sort through her anger. And that's when I recognized something. We NEVER know what is going on with someone else. Maybe she just lost her job. Maybe she just received bad news. Maybe someone, somewhere, had been terribly unkind to her that day as well. I felt a calming sense of empathy and recognized that I, too, had also had terrible days, and probably didn't react in the best way either.
This incident probably would have caused a reaction in me several years ago. Instead of letting it roll off my shoulders, I definitely would have held onto it. I would have questioned myself repeatedly. I would have replayed the situation in my head 100 times, thinking of all the ways it could have been different. I would have ruminated on it for days, allowing it to consume me. I probably would have felt hurt by this, that a complete stranger now HATES me! I also might have been fearful to walk outside, because WHAT IF she does something crazy and tries to hurt me?
That's how anxiety gets you. All of the fears, uncertainties, irrational thoughts, and false beliefs bubble back up, leading you to question yourself and others. I found myself later that evening reflecting on what had happened just a few hours earlier and thought, "I really hope she's okay." And I genuinely do. While no one deserves to be belittled and talked down to, we also don't deserve to feel so powerless and out of control with our own feelings.
Anger, anxiety, and depression can and will consume you. You can't afford the luxury of a negative thought because before you realize it, you can be it's prisoner. Breaking the patterns of these thoughts are even more difficult but can be done with a shift in perspective. By shifting my perspective back to myself, checking in and staying grounded, and recognizing that this was not my fault and I should not take it personal, I stopped the anxiety before it started. I was also able to step aside from my own feelings and see her as a human who was hurting deeply, and felt empathy for that.
Walking back to my car, I stopped to smile again at the man on the corner and wish him a good evening. He smiled back with his warm smile, and in that moment we shared a small connection of kindness and compassion. A friend once told me that the person right in front of you should be the most important in the world. We all have feelings, thoughts, and a desire for connection and to be understood. See the person in front of you...even if it's uncomfortable. We are all navigating this life together, and there is always something you can learn from every person you encounter. Honor the light in others, and watch how it transforms you.