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.

“choose happiness,” said the miserable sod

my grandmother divorced from her husband when she was in her 50’s. she once told me that for years after the divorce, she harbored great bitterness and resentment towards him, that she often imagined what she would say to him if she bumped into him around town, or how she would have handled various events in their marriage if she could only go back in time. she said that eventually, though, she realized that all the negative feelings she kept revisiting never had any impact on him, but they did have a huge impact on her. she realized that she was making herself miserable by continuing to dwell on negative things that she couldn’t change or didn’t intend to follow through with.

once she had this epiphany, she simply stopped giving it any thought. after that, she felt much better.

similarly, a long time ago, my wife jenn said to me, “choose happiness.” i was super annoyed when she first said it because it sounds like something a yoga hipster woman would say, but the more i thought about it, the more i liked it. what “choose happiness” means is, when you are driving home at a respectable 10 km/h over the speed limit and you come up behind some son of a bitch who is putting along just under the speed limit, you have a choice. you can choose to fume and gripe out loud, maybe swerve slightly into the oncoming lane as if to pass the slow driver, perhaps lay on the horn, and get right worked up about this minor inconvenience — or you can realize that you actually aren’t in a big rush for any justifiable reason so you may as well take a deep breath, slow down, and relax.

for whatever reason, we give ourselves a lot of leeway when it comes to embracing anger and frustration. we allow ourselves to stew over tiny, insignificant things and make ourselves miserable. i see people do it all the time. i do it all the time myself (except i usually like to do it). but we have the ability to become more self aware, notice when we repeat negative patterns, and work to break those patterns. i actually frequently think “choose happiness” to myself now as a mantra when i want to snap myself out of yet another loop of rage. i even say it to jenn occasionally, which she absolutely fucking hates.

violent-women

“don’t you EVER use my own pretentious, mystical advice on me!”

i’m writing about this now because i was bothered by something else when i got stuck behind an insanely slow driver. i had to remind myself that the slow driver wasn’t what was actually bothering me, and letting myself get worked up about them would only make me even more unhappy. so i relaxed and slowed down and felt better for it.

it’s nice when this kind of stuff actually works. which is only maybe 50% of the time, but that’s still way better than nothing. i welcome any mitigation of my misery with open arms.

i like me, and this

do you know what i like about this blog? besides every single post, i mean. i like that it gives me a place to write down my thoughts on random shit and review them as many times as i want. reviewing is actually really important to me because i frequently find the way i first write stuff isn’t quite what i mean or intended to communicate. in that case it’s nice because i can edit stuff over and over, even years afterward, until i’m finally satisfied that i have said what i actually wanted to. then in the future when i come back and read that post again, i think to myself, “i agree with my past self 100%. nice work, david.” that’s incredibly satisfying.

my last post is what got me thinking about this. the first paragraph about christians didn’t quite say what i had meant to say. it was a little unfocused, and a little finger-waggy. after 7 or 8 tweaks, i finally think i’ve got it, and that feels great.

i know this blog doesn’t mean much to anyone else, and tiny details like a few euphemisms or needless words here and there mean even less to others, but it’s important to me to say what i mean. i want to clearly and correctly represent my rage and indignity.

tetsuo

perfect!