Saturday, June 8, 2013

Making the Changes Last, Part Two: Keeping Calm in the Presence of Truly Annoying People

It took only one trip to the grocery store to disrupt my post-Camino zen. 

We'd been back three days and I desperately needed to restock our cupboards, so off to Hannaford we went.

It started well.  Our car stereo obligingly blasted our favorite tunes, a fragrant and warm wind blew through our open windows, and the road passed smoothly under my Subaru's wheels.  We were three ridiculously happy people in one unified state of bliss.  Life had been simple for weeks -- all we had to do on the Camino was wake up, hike, shower, eat, and sleep, in that order, day after day after day.  The simplicity of it all had cleared our minds and hearts, and we'd returned to the United States ready to tackle life, the universe, and everything.

A parking space miraculously appeared right in front of the supermarket, further proof that life was indeed amazing.  We brought our vehicle to a halt, got out, snagged a cart, and entered the store.

One minute later, my post-Camino euphoria went straight to hell.

To enter the main section of our local Hannaford, one must enter the automatic doors, take a right, and travel one of two narrow aisles filled with this week's specials.  One of those aisles was clogged with people, so Sage took the alternative and carefully wheeled the cart up to a woman who was standing with her bum protruding into the aisle.

My eight-year-old can be shy of strangers, so I voiced the "excuse me."

Without stepping out of the aisle, the woman turned to Sage and barked, "What -- you can't go another way?"

A sensation I hadn't felt in months flooded my senses.  I literally saw red as protective anger -- rage, really -- rose and snuffed out every bit of my previous good nature.  I snatched the cart from Sage and pushed it forward in a rush, snarling, "Fine, we'll run you over then."  I meant it, too.  This woman was rude, lazy, and she had snapped at my kid.  Rule number one -- never, ever, mess with Mama Bear.

We sailed past her -- I missed her stomach by a millimeter -- and continued into the bread section, where I stood and calmed down near the bagels.

My kids stared at me as though I'd just sprouted horns.  Reddening, I mumbled an apology and surrendered the cart to Sage.  My youngest daughter shook her head in bewilderment as she rolled the cart past the scones and toward the produce.  Alex raised her eyebrows and followed her sister.

I felt like an idiot as we picked out our food items.  I had behaved like a jackass...and both my daughters knew it.  Aisle after aisle, I replayed the scene in my head and came up with a hundred different, saner responses.  I could have stood patiently and repeated the words "excuse me" until the woman had moved.  I could have smiled and informed her that no, there really was no other way we could go.  I could have apologized for disturbing her and acknowledged that it's sometimes inconvenient to move out of the way for others.  Etc. 

What alarmed me more than the inappropriateness of my response, however, was the hair-trigger way in which that rage had blossomed.  One second I was in Camino La-La-Land, the next I was willing to run someone over with my shopping cart.

No doubt, each of us has had moments where some inconsiderate/arrogant/idiotic/troublemaking person got under the skin.  No doubt, I'm not the only woman who sometimes loses her cool when confronted with a truly annoying person.  Still, there's no doubt that losing one's cool is the least effective way to handle such situations.

So what's the answer?  If I made a habit of running people over with shopping carts then I'd enroll myself in an anger management course before I found myself doing jailtime.  Fortunately, I usually don't react in such a manner.  I do, however, see red from time to time.  Let's face it -- people can be annoying.  They can be rude for no reason, they can tailgate, they can make sexist and racist comments, they can allow their children to climb all over your car.  Yet surely there's a better way to handle things than seething through one's teeth.

Now that I'm off the Camino and back in my everyday life, I need to remember my Camino Truths -- in particular, #4.  Only the insecure and deeply unhappy people attempt to cause trouble for others.

Every time someone acts or does something rude or aggressive, I need to remember one simple fact.  Happy and healthy people do not purposefully treat others in a negative fashion.  The person unjustifiably snapping at my kid is hurting on the inside, otherwise she wouldn't vent her emotions in such an inappropriate and irrational way.  The person cutting you off in traffic has a need to feel powerful, however temporarily, because that person feels powerless in other aspects of his life.  The woman talking about you behind her back is unhappy with her own life and therefore can't bear to see anyone else happy in theirs.  Etc.

Does this mean I should have stood there and done nothing when that woman snarled at my kid?  Of course not.  Could I have spoken in a calm and quiet manner, said something to make her realize what she was doing, or gently pushed past while giving her a patient smile?  Absolutely.  Such reactions have room for compassion.  A gracious response might have changed that woman's state of mind and prompted her into a place of kindness.  Or not.  It would have been worth a try, though.  Nearly running her over with our cart certainly wasn't helpful.  No one benefited from that response.  Not me, not the woman, and not my kids (who were mortified).

The next time someone affronts me or my children, I'll do my best to put the red on hold.  I'll try to remember that the person doing the affronting probably has something stressful going on in his/her life, and that I am merely a temporary and convenient lightning rod for his/her overwhelming emotions.  I'll still stand up for myself and my children, of course.  However, keeping such kinder, gentler thoughts in mind will allow me to form a more positive and helpful response.  I'm sure there will still be times when I lose my one's perfect...but I'll do what I can to make the world a better place (and not run people over with shopping carts).

Coming soon...Paracord Survival Bracelet giveaway, trip report of Magalloway Mountain, and a review of Dan Szczesny's new publication, The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie -- if you liked my memoir, Up, then you'll enjoy this book too.


Unknown said...

this is great! thanks

Anne Kreupeling said...

YES - I fully feel with you on your instant reaction, Trisha! It happens. The woman in tour story was probably already in a bad mood, so her reaction was, in a way, normal for her. What shocked you, was your reaction, because it was so out of balance with your actual state of mind! It happens to me, quite frequently and after, I say " why on earth did I react like that"? But it happens!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the this blog. I've been practicing mindfulness over the past several months and find it to be so helpful in circumstances like this. Being in the present moment, taking a moment to calm my breathe, telling the person I'd appreciate it if I could get by, and also complimenting her on something she's wearing. It works every time. No need to think about what it is the other person is going through. Move past. Let it go. Onto the next moment. It takes practice. Oh, and sometimes I even stop to have a brief and friendly conversation with the person.

Unknown said...

Great post Trish. I liked how the girls knew you were in the wrong, but had the grace to carry on the shopping trip without casting judgment. You were certainly harder on yourself, as we all all, after an outburst like that, even a minor one. Thanks for sharing.

Patricia Ellis Herr, Alexandra Herr, and Sage Herr said...

Thanks, folks!

Anonymous, adding the compliment to the request is an excellent idea, thanks for sharing that. Friendly conversation is even better, if the person is receptive to it. I appreciate your comments and will keep them in mind the next time a situation arises.