Small Slights, Big Emotions

While parking my car at a busy shopping center, I witnessed an unfolding drama.

A woman in a red car was heading for a spot when a blue car came from the opposite direction and slipped right in. I settled in to watch the battle, but then a new spot opened up right next to the red car. Disaster was averted.

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Well, not quite.

Instead of taking the new space, the red car driver opened her window and roared at the blue car driver.

I thought maybe she didn’t see the new open spot, but she did, and after parking there she jumped out of her car, stalked over to the blue car driver, and harangued her at high volume for stealing her space. When the alleged space thief walked away, the accuser dogged her footsteps, yelling all the way.

All that emotional angst over a lost parking space that was immediately replaced with another one.

I wondered what really set that woman off. Was she recently served with divorce papers, fired from her job, or groggy after a sleepless night with a sick baby?

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And what about the feelings of the falsely accused parking space thief? She must have felt threatened and upset.

When something like that happens between two strangers it shows just how easy it is to view events through a distorted filter of our own making.

It reminded me of the end of a perfect day I’d spent at my sister’s vacation beach house on Fire Island, celebrating my niece’s birthday this past July. After lunch on the deck, then comical games of Frisbee and sand volleyball, my family was walking to the parking lot from the ferry terminal. My son and daughter-in-law were engaged in happy conversation about the beautiful day.

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As we walked across a paved section of road, a man leaped from his nearby house and yelled, “Get off my property! You’re walking on private property!” He glared at us and shook his fist.

“I’m so sorry,” we all said, scrambling away.

“That was so rude,” my son said, upset. “We didn’t walk on his property on purpose. It didn’t even look like private property. He had no call to yell at us that way.”

I thought about what could have prompted such an angry response. “I agree that was uncalled for, but maybe this happens to him all the time. His driveway looks like part of the road. All summer he must get people traipsing across his property. It must drive him to distraction.”

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“Still,” my son said. “We were talking quietly. We didn’t damage anything. We did it by mistake, and he’s yelling at us like we’re criminals.”

I could see how upset my son was. He is always sensitive to other people’s feelings. In his apartment he listens to music through earphones so he doesn’t disturb anyone. He takes his shoes off at the door to preserve the quiet, as well as protect the floors, in the apartment. It was not fair to be judged so harshly by this stranger.

What can we do to make life less stressful for others?

Before we react to a perceived slight with insults or shouting, we can take a deep breath and think about how our actions might affect the other person who may be completely unaware of what they’ve done.

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And when someone unfairly accuses us of treating them poorly, we can tell ourselves a story about how they might be having a bad day, or week, or year, or life.

Or maybe they’re just rude, selfish, inconsiderate boors.

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