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They’re lost… Or late… Or just a jerk. Any of the above could be true if you’re driving behind someone who seems to have lost the ability to operate a moving vehicle. Just last night I was driving behind someone driving waaaaaay too slow on the way home from the grocery store. If I wasn’t in such a good mood I would have felt rather frustrated at their snail-like pace, as I was trying to hurry home to make dinner (come on, I was hungry!). After I was able to pass them, a strange thing happened… I actually made a driving error! I made a blind turn and another car had to stop short because I pulled out as they were speeding around the corner. I apologetically waved, but who knows how they responded…? I wondered if they were compassionate and thought, “Oh, she probably had some difficulty seeing me coming… maybe I was driving too fast?” or, “What a bad driver (…or the more explicit version of that statement)!”
What’s healthier for you? Remember, anything could be true… is it better to have compassion and try to imagine a time when you might have driven like an 80 year old, or like you were driving your first born home from the hospital? Or is it better to just assume the slow driver is a jerk? It’s more likely that people aren’t making mistakes or behaving a certain way to ruin your day… So, why not respond with a bit of compassion? Research shows that responding with compassion is healthier for you – and for the other person! Bonus: If you have any children around, modeling compassion is healthy for them as well. When you think through compassionate thoughts out loud (e.g. a car pulls out in front of you and instead of shaking your head and saying, “what a jerk,” choosing to explain, “oh man, that was scary… but perhaps that person is experiencing an emergency situation…”) you are teaching your child to respond to stress and upset emotions in a positive, kindhearted, and productive manner.
So, as I often do, I will leave you with a challenge: practice compassion. Observe how you feel when you have compassion versus when you think the other person is an idiot that should have never passed their driving test and/or have their license revoked. Remember, just like any other skill – it takes time to learn. Begin by being mindful of when you do respond negatively and work your way to responding compassionately. We live in such a hustle and bustle world that most of us have seemingly lost our ability to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes… “We are toooo busy for that!” Not so, I say… it just takes some effort to begin!
AND, last but not least, be compassionate with yourself!! You don’t have to be perfect. If you mess up – it’s okay. If you don’t do everything well, it’s okay. We are all just doing our best to survive this crazy thing called life. Let’s be gentle with others, and ourselves, as we collectively exist.