Yesterday I pulled up behind a silver car waiting at a stoplight. There was another white car to my right, double parked with the blinkers on. Maybe a foot from my passenger side door. Three cars packed together like a Tetris L.
An older, burly dude was walking slowly down the sidewalk, eyeing the parked white car. I assumed it to be his. I also knew there was no way in hell he’d be able to open his driver’s side door. There wasn’t any room with his double park for him to get in.
I started to feel tense. Totally ready for the stoplight to turn green so this whole situation would go away. I like stuff to go away.
I think to myself out loud:
What the hell you park like that for? This is a no win situation.
The old guy still walking toward his car looked down at the sidewalk and then to his car and then back down at the sidewalk. By his facial expression I mentally decided that he was annoyed.
Then I felt more tense. I waited impatiently for him to glare at me.
And then I said in frustration:
God, this is not where I want to be.
And then my feeling of anxiety shifted slightly to compassion. A moment of grace. A nudge of clarity.
I didn’t know what that guy was thinking. He could very well have been feeling that same tension, just as I did. He was older and may have even felt vulnerable with his youth well behind him. I doubt if he wanted to be trapped outside of his car anymore than I wanted to be blocking him from getting in.
And then I relaxed.
And then the light turned green. I drove through the intersection and the four second confrontation, imaginary or not, was over.
Unfortunately, sometimes scenarios play in my head and they generally end with nuclear war.
Because somewhere in my life I started thinking the worst about people. Well, I wouldn’t say it just like that. I assume that people are hostile. That’s a real feeling I have.
And after this encounter I realized that I’ve made that assumption for far too long. I read something years ago about how, “no specific facial reaction guarantees a specific emotional expression.” Something like that.
And then I got into an argument with somebody because they said that statement was false, that we *can* tell how someone is feeling based on how they look.
I’d like to think I can make those kind of educated assumptions but I really can’t. I can’t assume somebody is mad from a distance. I don’t even know if they’re mad at me up close until they clarify. There’s a real possibility that their anger is directed inward.
My point is: I don’t know how somebody is feeling unless they tell me. Until then, I should just assume the best.
Because “seek to understand rather than to be understood.”
That quote has kept me from going into the dark places I’m all too comfortable with. And *kept me* not because I’m a spiritual dynamo, but because it helps bring me back out of the darkness of my anxiety.
With that burly dude, it didn’t matter what he was feeling. That was his to own and tend. His to control and parse.
What mattered for me is that I do the right thing, be the best me that I can be. And then get on with my day. Because then I drive away feeling good regardless and I’m putting positive energy back into the universe. I try to be good like that.
PS- those are the actual stoplights at the intersection.
PS×2- wow, this turned out a lot longer than I thought it’d be. Pay attention to how you feel. You’ll be surprised at what turns up. 😉
Yeah, it’s easy to say assumptions make asses out of you and me but when I’m feeling tense clarity is not two fold. ↑