We can do better

There are times in everyone’s life when things don’t seem to be fair. Neighbours are cruel. Kids get sick. Cars break down. People die. People come into our lives, while others make their exit. You watch others self destruct. You take the blame for some offences while standing your ground on others while groups implode from dishonest players who tag along for the ride.

Everyone has something going on, and it’s become fairly normal to forget that. While we are busy trying to keep ourselves together from all that life may throw at us, there are sometimes expectations we have of others to help us keep things rolling smoothly. We always have choices throughout the day on how we react to situations. Often what I see is excuses being made for the choices we make instead of compromises. It may be worth taking a step back and seeing another side of every situation.

When your coffee isn’t made right in the morning, it could cost you being late for work in order to make a new one to your perfection. You snap at the barista a little strongly because you know you are going to be late, but decided risking being late to get your coffee “just right”. (You couldn’t have known that the barista was up late with her sick child in the emergency room last night, and having to remake your coffee has put her behind in customer orders and is now making others late and she ends up getting reprimanded by her superiors.) When you show up late with a Starbucks in hand, your boss comes down a little harder on you and a few others than normal. (S/he has just been reprimanded for your department’s dwindling efficiency.) One of your coworkers gets let go from her job because she made an abrupt comment to your also-stressed boss, and leaves in a hurry, knocking into you and spilling your Starbucks. You tear her a new one for staining your shirt. (You didn’t know that she had found her husband cheating on her the night before.) You finish your day at work unhappy and wanting to go home, but have to pick up your daughter in 20 minutes. Traffic is jammed and you’re going to be late, which incurs an additional cost for child care. You cut someone off trying to get around people and they don’t stop in time, and you get bumped but no one is hurt. You call them stupid and irresponsible and blame them for not paying attention while you exchange information. (That person is coming back from a doctor’s appointment. They just found out they have cancer.) You get to the daycare to pick up your daughter and she’s missing her shoes. You tell the daycare worker that you’re taking it out of her monthly fees. (She has just learned that her husband is going to Afghanistan in less than a week.) You get home late and find that your husband hasn’t started making dinner like he promised he would when you told him you were running behind, and you yell at him not to bother while you hastily get started. (He was in the traffic jam on his way back from the store with dinner, and made a special trip to Starbucks because he knew yours from earlier in the day had been spilled, and he hit someone riding a bicycle who was trying to weave illegally through traffic.) In your haste and anger at your husband while making dinner, you step on a toy your child leaves on the floor and burn yourself, spilling the pot. You yell at your child for not picking up her toys, making her cry. You end up feeding your child cereal so you can just go to bed as soon as you can, angry at the world and upset that no one is competent. (Your little girl thinks that eating cereal is punishment for leaving the toy on the floor and can’t get to sleep because she thinks you’re still mad at her.)

We can do better than this. We can make choices not only to help us help ourselves, but to help others as well. There are studies that show that when we are compassionate and kind to others, our own levels of happiness also improve. Pay happiness and gratitude forward. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. All of us. Sometimes we make a bad call and it’s not always necessarily a bad thing. It can be fixed, but the first step to do this is to admit it. Apologies are more powerful than defenses.

You are ALLOWED to feel whatever it is you feel. You can feel frustrated at your barista for making you late. Or you can feel grateful that she tried, take what you got and not be late. You are allowed to feel abashed that you got reprimanded by your boss. Or you can choose to admit remorse over making your coffee your priority over work. You are allowed to feel upset that your favorite shirt may be stained. Or you may choose to put your coworker’s well being higher than the monetary value of a piece of cloth. You may feel angry that someone didn’t see you switch lanes in time. Or you may choose feel lucky that it was a very minor incident. You may be upset with your daycare staff for not keeping your child’s belongings safe. Or you may choose to recognise the dedication they have to the children under their care and be grateful that you have a safe place for your child to be while you are working. You can be angry at your husband for not planning his day better, or you can choose to be thankful for his thoughtfulness and his well being. You can reprimand your daughter for not cleaning up, or you can teach her a valuable lesson that she’ll learn out of repetition and positive encouragement rather than out of fear of reprimand or negative responses.

You are allowed to feel whatever emotion comes to you. You are also allowed to choose how you react, however, and sometimes that reaction is changing the emotion you feel towards a situation. Fear doesn’t belong in the driver seat. Neither does anger, or hurt, or regret. For that matter, neither does happiness, joyfulness or any other emotion. You are in charge, not your emotions, so it’s worth keeping them close to help your decide which direction to go, but not always a good idea to let them drive you or your reactions. Emotions are a great fuel to get to your destination, but don’t have a great sense of direction.

Next time try this. Let the barista know that the coffee is a little too hot so she knows a mistake was made, but thank her for making it anyways and let her help the next customer if it’s something you can live with. Apologise to your boss for being late and let her know that you’ll stay late or work through one of your breaks to make up for it. Ask your coworker if she’s ok since it’s obvious she’s upset. It’s just a shirt and if you act quick then staining can be prevented. Apologise to the driver of the vehicle for cutting them off and make sure they’re ok and didn’t get hurt, and deal with the insurance (if needed) later. Ask your daycare worker to ask other parents if they have the shoes – you have others at home. Help your husband with dinner and ask him why he was behind. Make a game out of cleaning for your child.

Sometimes these little changes can make the biggest difference – not only in your own life, but in others as well. Those deep breaths people recommend to take during times of stress work well. Those deep breaths increase oxygen (and functioning) to the brain, they create a pause, they lower the heart rate and can create a moment to just be for long enough to find the calm needed to get through the moment. Your moment of aggravation does not need to become someone else’s frustration on top of whatever else they may be dealing with in their life.

Crumbling Happy BuddhaAnd if you do react in a way that isn’t kind? It happens, to the best of us and to the worst of us. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and our amygdala takes over, which causes a knee-jerk reaction to our situation, but it’s not always the most reasonable one. A sincere apology can sometimes make the biggest difference to start the healing process after a hurt has been made. We are all people trying to do the best we can, and it’s ok that we slip up now and again. The best thing we can do is be the best we can be and to help others do the same. The ripples we make travel far. You don’t have to log hundreds of volunteer hours, or donate money you don’t really have, or sacrifice anything you don’t want to sacrifice. It’s doesn’t take much – a bit of understanding, compassion, a smile or a hug. We don’t know what’s going on in another person’s world. We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect – so why expect it of others?

There’s always a way to find peace. Hug a kitten. Snuggle a baby. Wear your favorite pajamas. Plant a tree. Plant an idea. Give your neighbor flowers. Pick up some trash. Buy a friend coffee. Go for a walk. Make something to gift to someone – just to let them know you’re thinking of them. Find something that makes you feel good, and do that.

What kind of ripples do you want others to feel in your wake? Ripples of kindness, or of resentment? It’s up to you. It’s up to us. We really can do better for each other. Let’s start at home.

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