A few days ago, on the main street about five minutes (in normal traffic) from my house, I got stuck in traffic. Abnormal traffic. Instead of less than five minutes to my house, my car edged through three traffic lights. By the time I figured out what the problem was, I’d been waiting ten minutes. I was beyond annoyed. I’d had a particularly long day, and was aching to get to the daycare to pick up my son, walk the dog, put on dinner, and start our night time rituals.
As I got up to the source of the delay – I realized that there had been a car accident. There was a car straddling two lanes, having been hit by a car in the right lane (likely after turning left). I was even more annoyed. Why couldn’t they move the cars out of the way. Clearly no one was hurt – there wasn’t significant damage to the vehicles, and it was clear who had hit who. They should have taken pictures and moved the damn cars. As I rounded into the turning lane to get past, I checked myself.
I Checked Myself
I have been in a car accident. More than one in fact. I should be more sensitive to the fact that having an accident – big or small, can have an impact on someone. I don’t know what happened to cause that accident. I didn’t know what sort of day or week the drivers had been having. My first instinct was annoyance – and it should have been compassion. Of all people – I should have understood that sometimes it takes more than ten minutes to figure out what to do after an accident. To go through all the checks. Physical. Mental. Emotional. And then the car. I remember my first instinct was to contact someone I loved. The woman in the straddling car was clearly on the phone. She hadn’t gotten out of the car. She was trying to get help. And I wasn’t helping.
Recently, I read a Facebook post from a fellow blogger that described her own annoyance – she was at a local coffee shop, where she’d gone a coffee and a bit of peace and quiet. The woman at the table next to her was speaking on her phone. According to Facebook, this lady wasn’t using her “inside voice”. She was talking about her divorce. And her other, what should have been personal, private, legal issues.
I wonder if I would have been annoyed too.
Or would I have been compassionate?
A Difficult Balance
It’s a difficult balance. My instinct on reading the status update was to encourage compassion. I’ve been through a divorce. I had extremely issues with my ex-husband. He would call me in the middle of the day at my office – and I would lose it. And I wasn’t quiet about it. Only one person in my office was compassionate. I know (from conversations later) that there were others who heard. And ignored me. And talked about me behind my back. Instead of asking how I was. Or offering compassion.
Looking back now to the day in the car, I wish I could take back my feelings. The softened when I thought about it, but I wish they hadn’t been my initial response. Looking back now, I would have stopped that day. To see if I could assist. Make a phone call. Give her a hug. Anything.
So the next time you’re delayed in traffic, or you’re stuck behind someone going slow on the highway, or the woman in front of you in the checkout line is taking too long, or someone’s talking loudly about their issues on their phone, or the woman in the drop off line at your kids school gets out of her car to give her kid a hug before school – I’d like you to remember my post. You don’t know the whole picture – and maybe you don’t want to. But maybe, just maybe, you can show a little bit of compassion. Offer something of yourself – because that day when you’re the one who needs it, you’re going to want someone there. And I hope for your sake, someone is.
Have you ever had a similar situation – where your initial instinct isn’t compassion? Were you disappointed in yourself?
On the twentieth of every month, bloggers take a moment to reflect on compassion in the hopes that spreading compassion will beget compassion. To learn more about the #1000Speak movement, check my other posts – or make your way over to the #1000Speak website for more information on how to contribute.
This is my twentieth blog post for #NaBloPoMo and #NaBloPablano and the Yeah Write Me NoMo Challenge. It’s also my submission for #1000Speak this month.
Image Credit: Feelart / freedigitalphotos.net
Lovely post. It is easy when we are feeling under stress to jump to conclusions, so though you are correct that it’s worth remembering we don’t know the full story, it’s also worth having self-compassion. You did stop and think and feel compassion, even if it wasn’t instant. My experience is that the more we forgive ourselves for these compassion lapses, the less often they happen. So yes, keep in mind how you’d like to respond another time, and give yourself appreciation for how quickly you did change from annoyance to compassion1
Thanks for this thoughtful post.
Very true Yvonne. I think by being more mindful I can make that leap faster…until there’s no leap at all!
It’s understandable, I think, for compassion to take a back seat sometimes. We’re bombarded with so much bad news, tragedy, sorrow and suffering every day that if we weren’t ever able to switch off compassion/empathy, we wouldn’t be able to function (which is how first responders can keep doing the job, and even then many of them burn out within a few years). It’s when we have reached the point of being unwilling or unable to switch it back on that there is a problem.
Thanks for this post – definitely some food for thought here.
It’s so true. All the bad stuff makes us flip a switch. We have to be conscious of it – and turn it back on.
I do believe one can choose to act compassionately without necessarily feeling that way. Making it an intellectual decision rather than one based on feelings. In fact, there is a school of thought that says kind acts make you feel more kindly towards others. So maybe the key to flipping the switch back to the side of compassion is to fake it ’til you make it.
That’s a good way to look at it. Thanks Vince!
What a wonderful post – and a good reminder to us all! Human nature seems to be to focus on what an event means to us – but a person is truly compassionate when they think of others first.
Exactly. Thanks for popping in!
Ergh. I have started THINKING about this, now – when I’m driving and I get annoyed at someone, this post goes through my mind and I wonder if I should be giving them the benefit of the doubt and being less stroppy. *sigh* impatience comes so easily…
It does. But people who strive to do better will take note of their behavior and try to change it.
I tend to make judgements instantly and only later start to ponder on the compassionate way of thinking of a situation. I guess the fact that we do watch our thoughts is a start. What do you think?
Agreed. Becoming aware of the behavior as its happening is the first step to changing it.
It’s so easy to get annoyed and forget about the people who are “holding us up” if you will. Each time I see an accident, I am both annoyed by the traffic and also horrified by how hard it is for the ambulance to get through. You sharing that you’ve been in both is perfect and THANK YOU.
Sometimes, I go straight to feeling ‘annoyed’ instead of asking ‘how can I help?’. May depend on my coffee consumption. Seriously, though you bring up a great point and a great reminder!
Thank you Lisa!
Traffic is a great example of the way we consider everyone else to be it…no us, contributing to traffic. This post is very insightful..
I was in this situation a few years ago on the interstate. My husband and I were driving back home (a 7 hour trip) after taking our son to college. Three hours into the drive, we came to a dead stop on the interstate. At first I was super annoyed, but after sitting there for two hours and not moving, word spread that there was an accident up ahead. Turns out ,it was more than just an “accident.” There were several cars involved and multiple casualties. It was horrific. When I got up close, I saw several cars that looked like accordions. It broke my heart to think of those poor families who lost their loved ones. Ever since then, I never get impatient on the highway.
It’s heartbreaking to witness things like that…
Thanks for this. If we could catch ourselves and notice our feelings a little earlier and earlier, perhaps compassion will become our default response. It’s a goal anyway!
Something to strive for!
Truly good points. I will try to remember this the next time I’m in the pickup lane at school. People are at their worst in those lanes.
Oh yes. I hate the pickup lane. I always go a few minutes early to avoid it.
I gon a few min late.
Compassion is rarely my first emotion. This made me think.
I’m glad to hear it. That’s what #1000Speak is all about.
You make some excellent points here about annoyance vs. compassion. We’re so frequently frustrated by people and their actions that we rarely consider their feelings or their side of the story. But what if we took the time to think, do our best to understand, and maybe even help them, instead of grumble and complain about them? It’s something I’ll try to remember in the future. Thank you for writing this.
Btw, here’s my #1000Speak post, if you’re interested in reading: http://saraletourneauwriter.com/2015/11/20/1000speak-we-are-all-paris/
Thank you for reading it – and sharing yours. It’s perfect.