The Younger You Learn this Lesson, the Better Life will be.
How to sidestep other people's toxic anger.
When my sister and I were children we spent many hours sitting in the back of our mother’s 1972 Grand Prix. We whiled away the hour-long trip from our home in the countryside to the city of Spokane. We made up many games.
The car was a zippy red. Our mom drove like Mario Andretti in heels. She enraged many other drivers. My sister created one of our games in response to these men that would become angry at our mom.
“Let’s wave and smile at them when they get mad! It’ll make them even madder.”
In little time our mother allowed us to test our theory. Another driver shook his fist at our car. Like cherubs, we smiled and waved. The driver smiled back at us.
It didn’t work.
Within minutes another opportunity arose. As a man honked and screamed at our mother for cutting him off in a 17-foot long, 8-cylinder beast, we smiled and waved at him.
Glumly, a small smile emerged on his lips. It was more of a smirk. Either way, he quit his rant.
Fast forward years later when I took my first legal job in the city of Dallas. Despite what I view as my superior driving ability I too angered many a male competitor. That is, we were competing for a piece of the road in the congested byways of a metropolis.
At that moment, I fondly remembered our family trips to Spokane and my sister’s game of smiling and waving at our mother’s angry competitors.
I decided to play. But instead of waving and smiling in hopes of escalating the ire of the other drivers, I decided to see if my smile and wave would soften the other driver’s reaction.
This time, I softened the ingratiating smiles and furious waves. Instead, if I felt at fault somehow for a minor traffic faux pas, I waved as if to say “mea culpa. I’m sorry I was in the wrong.”
Telepathically I added, “please, don’t let my misstep ruin your day.”
If I felt the other driver was at fault I changed my reaction to a wave that signaled “it’s okay. Don’t let your little blunder ruin your day. I won’t let it ruin mine.”
My sister hadn’t intended to invent a spiritual philosophy that over 45 years later I still use as a touchstone. But it works. Despite her intentions to further anger the miscreant, she taught me to let go of the actions of others.
One misstep needn’t ruin your day.
There are only two certainties in life. Taxes and death. We’ve all heard that mantra before.
There’s a third certainty. Someone will do something today that will upset you. At least once a week someone will do something that will anger you. At least once a month someone will do something that will infuriate you. The possibilities are endless:
- They will leave a toxic comment to you on social media.
- They will zip a two-ton red flash of steel in front of you on the highway.
- They will slyly lob a backhanded compliment to you.
None of that is within your control. But what you can control is your response to it. You have a choice. You can choose to take in the other person’s emotional vomit or you can choose to deflect it.
You can respond in kind. You can escalate the situation resulting in embarrassment, humiliation, or even violence.
Or, you can smile and wave.
The decision to do the latter should be easy. Although we both know that it’s not. To guide you in the right direction ask yourself these three easy questions:
- Will a negative reaction in any way help the situation?
2. Is this incident even worth me giving it more mental energy weighing the pros and cons of a negative reaction?
3. Is giving this issue more mental energy how I want the rest of my day to go?
When the person who made you so angry is not a stranger but instead a personal friend, family member, or lover, there’s one more question you need to ask yourself.
4. Is there something else going on between the two of us of which I’m unaware?
If there is nothing, remind yourself that you too make mistakes. You as well can overreact to a minor incident. We all have our quirks. Give your loved one a pass.
And remember one of my favorite life lessons:
It’s not about you.
It usually isn’t.
A loved one didn’t verbally attack you leaving you feeling cold and vulnerable just because you ate the last piece of banana bread. A stranger didn’t scream uncontrollably at you through his closed windows because you accidentally cut him off. There’s more to the story. Their story. And you need to choose whether you spend more time thinking about it.
It’s not about you.
If that isn’t enough to make you choose to smile and wave off someone else’s toxicity, consider this. A study has shown that the average person needs almost 30 minutes to get back to the task at hand once distracted.
The distraction itself may be short-lived. But the time to get your head back in the game takes thousands of moments more. Thousands of moments were lost.
They add up.
Minute By minute.
Hour by hour.
Day by day.
So the next time you feel the need to lash back at someone who chose you as the repository of their emotional vomit, step aside. Let their vomit land somewhere else. And give them a smile and a wave. If they’re lucky your kindness will reset their day.
Whether or not it does is not something that you can control.
What you can do is let that smile and a wave be your signal, become your habit, and get back to your own bright new day.
If you like what you read here, please buy me a “ko-fi” by clicking here: https://ko-fi.com/melindamileslindberg. Yum, thanks!
At the end of the day, what do you want your obituary to say? It's not too late to change it.