Last week, I saw a truck run a red light.
Thankfully no one was coming through the intersection at the time, so the truck just sailed through the stop and that was that. It was scary, but clearly it was a mistake — the vehicle bore out of state license plates, the driver wasn’t speeding, and judging by the way he briefly tapped the brakes on the other side of the intersection, he’d obviously just had an “oh shit, I actually just did that” moment. He was probably shaken up, or at the very least, irritated with himself for being so distracted that he didn’t notice the light was red.
But the woman in the car in front of mine, who had also witnessed the event, looked like her head was going to explode. She threw her hands angrily into the air and practically stuck her whole body out the window to gesture furiously at the car, even though it was almost out of sight. Then, for the remainder of the time we sat at the light, she continued to rant and rave. In her car. By herself. If she was that livid in this situation, I thought, what must she be like as a person in general? Does she spend her entire life so amped-up and unhappy?
Yes, the truck had run a red light, and if someone had been coming through the intersection at the time it would have been a different story. But the nature of accidents is that they’re — wait for it — accidental. And with very few exceptions, the responsible parties don’t set out saying, “Hey! I think I’ll do something stupid that will really piss of a bunch of strangers!”
The ranting lady at the stoplight made me think about all the rudeness, impatience, and ugliness I encounter in the world. As a writer, I pour my heart out onto your computer screen. I divulge many of my parenting and personal blunders in the hope that someone out there will either learn from them or feel relieved that they’re not alone. But for every “me too!” comment that I get, it seems like someone chimes in with a flip side: “Reading this was a waste of my time.” “You shouldn’t even be a mother.” “I would never be that idiotic.”
I see it when the cashier at the grocery store takes a little too long at the register and the customer emits a dramatic sigh and an eyeroll. I see it when the server at a restaurant brings an order that’s just a little off and is chastised in an irritated tone (“I ordered this with no pickles.”) for a mistake that happened in the kitchen. I see it etched into the impatient faces of the people riding the bumpers of slower drivers.
What does this do for you, for them, for the world? Absolutely nothing. Getting pissed off is not going to take the pickles off your sandwich. It’s not going to speed up a slow cashier or improve anybody’s driving skills. All it does is spread unhappiness and negativity, ruining at least a few moments of your day and probably someone else’s too. We only have so many of those moments. Why waste them feeling snarly and surly over something we can’t control? Why impose that onto anyone else?
I’m not pretending that I never get irritated or impatient. I don’t eat a bowl of rainbows for breakfast and then Pollyanna my way through the day. But when I find myself on edge, I make a conscious effort to practice compassion. I try to put myself in the shoes of the person who is bothering me. I give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s not always easy. But it’s necessary.
Let’s cut people some slack. Everyone — you, me, your doctor, your clergy, your food server, your cashier — is just human. All humans are fallible. Everyone has days when their performance at life is subpar, and we don’t know the reasons behind it. Yes, their temporary inability to get it together may be an inconvenience to us, but know this: At some point, you have been — and inevitably will be again — an inconvenience to someone else. It happens to everyone. And when the shoe is on the other foot, and you’re the one inadvertently making a dumb mistake or somehow gumming up the works, would you rather people react with compassion and understanding, or frustration and anger?
Since my kids were very small, I’ve encouraged them to take pause before reacting and think of three words: “help or hurt?” Will their reaction make the situation better or just hurt somebody’s feelings? If it won’t help, then make like Princess Elsa and let it gooooo. The world needs more empathy and kindness. It’s the principle that mothers have been preaching since forever: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Which reminds me: If you think this was the “worst article ever” or “five minutes of your life you can never get back,” that’s fine — you are totally entitled to your opinion.
But please…just think it to yourself and keep on scrolling.