Being cut off while driving. People letting a door slam in your face when you approach a store. The person who leaves their car stereo blaring while parked in front of the ATM. Daily we can experience any or all these types of minor discourtesies.
My friend Jane Perdue did a great job recently reflecting on “Conflict in the Air,” sharing her latest observations of increasing incivility and what we can do about it. Her post motivated me to share my own recent stories when I was inspired to handle difficult situations better because of a friend’s encouragement.
Trolls don’t have to ruin your day
If you are visible on the web, inevitably someone is going to take a shot at you. Recently I was bemoaning an awful remark about me in the comments section on a video. I wanted to call the person out. My rationale was it was so awful; people shouldn’t get away with that. A friend suggested I reply, “Namaste,” (basically honoring the other person’s higher self). I did that.
Trolls in real life
About a month ago a vehicle cut me off on a nearby highway. As I signaled to change lanes and began to move, the vehicle slightly behind me in the other lane sped up so I couldn’t enter the lane. I was irked. Then they pulled ahead. The vehicle was a distinctive neon color. Its license plate read as an alternative spelling of the word, “Punisher.” How appropriate.
A chance of a lifetime
A few weeks later I pulled in and parked at my favorite coffee shop. Several feet away parked at the curb by an ATM was “The Punisher.” I thought hard. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Don’t worry. I was careful. I scoped out the situation and the driver. There were so many thoughts going through my head — snarky comments I could say to punish The Punisher. How many times do you get the chance to talk to the person who messes with you so blatantly on the roadway? Would he be as bold in person?
Sometimes, face-to-face, we aren’t so terrible to each other
Despite all the tantalizing possibilities, I knew I needed to be mindful. I remembered my friend’s advice about the troll online. What if I offered some version of “Namaste?”
I kept my distance. After the driver finished at the ATM I got his attention and asked if I could have a moment. He nodded.
I told him I hoped he had a good day. He looked at me quizzically. I told him he had cut me off on the road recently. I knew because his vehicle was so distinctive. I said I figured he must have been having a bad day to have cut me off, so I hoped today he had a good day.
The only thing he said to me was, “Where?” I don’t know why that was important. When I told him he shrugged and walked away.
I share this story not to pat myself on the back but to acknowledge how difficult it is to be generous when someone has done you wrong.
There were so many satisfying things I could have said to him. I also know they wouldn’t have been satisfying in retrospect.
I checked in with a fellow coach. Was I taking things too far by talking to this stranger? Is my impatience and annoyance leading me to risky behavior? After analyzing this and other recent incidents we decided I’m not going off the deep end. Yet.
Kindness is loving people more than they deserve.
~ Joseph Joubert
We can hold others accountable. There’s a time to do it directly. There’s a time to do it kindly. We can even do both.
I am grateful when I receive more kindness than I deserve. I’m glad my better angel of a friend challenged me to wish another well despite my temptation to do otherwise.