reacting to accidents with rage instead of concern

a while ago, i witnessed a minor car accident at a gas station. woman #1 was in an SUV parked at a pump. woman #2 was in a new-ish but beat up car that was backing in to the pump in front of the SUV, but wound up backing right into the SUV. woman #1 honked her horn at woman #2, who had her windows down and loudly responded, “fuck you!” and continued muttering other things i couldn’t make out. woman #1 got out of her SUV and approached the beat up car. she said to woman #2, whose windows were still down, “don’t tell me fuck you, you just backed into me. you just damaged my car.” despite her brazen tone before she was face to face with the owner of the SUV, woman #2 now refused to make eye contact and instead made herself busy rummaging about in her passenger seat while muttering things that seemed to further irritate woman #1. as i drove away, i could see that the scene continued on like this for a while, with woman #1 getting more and more angry at the insolence and lack of apology from woman #2. it was a depressing thing to witness.

it made me think about how people often react absurdly to bad things, like when my dad used to step on the cat’s tail in the kitchen. this happened frequently when i was a kid, and it always went like this:

    • dad accidentally stepped on the cat’s tail;
    • the cat howled in pain and ran away as fast as it could;
    • my dad stomped his feet and yelled, “well, don’t just sit there under my feet, for fuck’s sake!”

even as a kid, i thought that was a weird reaction. why was my dad freaking out? he wasn’t the tiny creature that just had an appendage crushed by a 220 lb pale, hairy ogre in his underwear. dad should have been concerned for the cat, sympathetic to it. even if he was annoyed by how frequently this dance occurred, he could have simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “i’m sorry but you should know better by now, even if you are just a dumb cat.”

i know i’m guilty of these kinds of reactions too, and that’s what i hate about it the most. when i see other people do it, i’m embarrassed for them but i’m also embarrassed for myself because i’m reminded that other people have surely seen me react to situations just as terribly. it’s a senseless, unattractive habit that lacks any grace whatsoever.

conversely, if woman #2 from my opening paragraph had got out of her car and approached woman #1, apologized for backing into her, and asked if woman #1 was alright, i would have thought, “that’s a strong, graceful person who is quick to admit their mistake, concerned for their fellow human, and wants to make the best out of that bad situation.”

and that’s the person i want to strive to become. i want kindness to be my default state so that no matter how awful or infuriating a situation may be, i can come out of it feeling good about the role i played in it.

now that i’ve written that, i just know one of my chickens is going to flap its wings in my face when i put them to bed tonight and really, really test me.

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