“Hey, f**k you!”
That’s the sentiment we share for the guy who cuts us off in traffic, for the customer who eats but doesn’t tip, or for the couple talking too loudly in the movie theater. There are over a million and one ways for somebody to piss us off, but living on a planet with over 7.6 billion of us all squeezed in, what can you really expect?
Letting off steam is good for us, we are told. It is not healthy to keep your emotions inside all bottled up and waiting, like a kettle on the stove, to reach its boiling point and spill over. We need to express ourselves, air our grievances out loud and be heard. It is the most common cure for scratching the itch of anger, and with the onslaught of social media now it is a tonic we apply liberally to be sure.
Unfortunately, the satisfaction of expression never seems to last. How often do you experience an unpleasant run-in with someone, either a stranger or a loved one, and if it happened first thing in the morning by the end of the night you are still thinking about it? You may be in the middle of enjoying something even, when a hint of that unpleasant memory crosses your mind. Suddenly your mood is shot right back down, as if you are experiencing the whole situation all over again.
Why do we fixate so much on the things that do not serve us to do so? Even if we talk about it, as the conventional rhetoric suggests, it may not make a dent of difference to our actually letting it go. Our complaints are like a balm, soothing until it evaporates into thin air so very soon another layer is needed again (woe to any poor bystanders caught in your ranting crossfire).
If talking about it (or tweeting it, or Facebook posting about it) doesn’t help, then maybe it’s just a matter of time. Time heals all, the popular wisdom of our grandmothers and Tumblr tells us. But does it? When you think about your own family lore, there is always at least one story that gets repeated over and over again, about that one time _X_ (Dad, Mom, Aunt J, Uncle X etc.) did something to you when you were younger. You might have grown up, but you were offended then and you’re still offended now. That one trespass has yet to be forgotten, and it definitely does not stop short of family. Friends, strangers, taxi drivers or colleagues – it doesn’t matter who you are because when anybody offends us, we bury that grudge deep.
How do you protect yourself from the unwanted and – you tell yourself – unwarranted onslaught of shitty, inconsiderate, mean, rude, or downright cruel things that other people inflict upon your innocent self? It’s impossible to hide away from humanity, we are everywhere (even on Mars soon, thanks Elon Musk). You cannot control the behaviour of another person though try as you might (looking at you my SO).
Even if you could change the behaviour of one person, just as you start thinking, “Ah, finally, now everything is going to be wonderful,” another person will inconsiderately raise their head up and do something else to annoy or offend you. It is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole; you will never be able to change the world’s individuals according to your specific needs.
You shouldn’t even want to, because at this exact moment someone else is thinking about those same annoyances, but with you on the receiving end. You are the star of somebody else’s nightmare, somebody else’s story about why their day went wrong. You are that person in line, in traffic, at the meeting, in those bad memories. If someone else could have their way, you would be behaving very differently too. But they are in the same boat as you. Because try as they might they cannot change you, and they don’t need to. They are in charge of themselves, just like you are in charge of you.
We are all master and commanders of our ship, not of our neighbours’ or our bosses’. Yet in our day to day dealings with people we frame our perceptions precisely so incorrectly. If conflict arises, our immediate reaction is to search for a cause that’s always outside of ourselves. I feel bad because this person did this, or I am in this situation because of the actions of others. One hundred percent of the blame lies outside – we ourselves offer only a clean slate, the perfect victim every time.
This, though it may appear to be true, is not. Life is always going to offer its ups and downs, and your life situation will fluctuate along with them constantly. If you tried to maintain your mental stability based on this waving pattern you will constantly lose the balance of your mind. A lot of life’s downs appear to be attributed to the action of others. At first glance it may seem undeniable that someone else is at fault. If another person trespassed onto your property and stole something of yours, or physically caused you harm, how can you say this person isn’t one hundred percent to blame?
Herein lies the important distinction to be made. Whatever is done to you – be it a co-worker who talks behind your back, to a thief who steals your car – that is your life’s situation. It may very well be the result of someone else’s action. Once again, you cannot control the mind of another, and whatever they choose to do with that mind is none of your business. If their actions lead to misfortune on your part, whatever harm they cause is their own karma, for them to deal with themselves.
Your only responsibility is to look at the situation and decide how you will feel about it. Your own action is all that you can control, but it is the most powerful action of all. You get to decide how you will perceive the reality, no matter what the reality is, because it in itself is unimportant. Good, or bad, is just a judgement, and one that you can suspend. The more you are able to do so and to look upon any situation without judgement but as it is, the more you will have control over your own well-being.
This means that yes, even though you have such an important meeting this morning and a cop just pulled you over, you will not hate the fact that you are stalled there on the side of the road. It is what it is. You are there, and you can choose not to hate the situation. Is the cop being unfair? Were you only slightly over the speed limit, and everyone else was going just as fast? It doesn’t matter. Whatever unfairness is taking place, karma will come for it. You just focus on your own reaction, and keeping the balance of your mind. No one else can take that away from you, no one else can do it for you either. So the next time you walk out the door to face the world, or even just walk into the kitchen to face your family, remember: Things will happen, because they always do, but you will be ready to receive them calmly, unaffectedly, because you accept them as they are.
And next time, turn that “F**k you!” into a “Thank you!” because each encounter with an apparent agitation is really a chance to practice your own mindfulness instead. What a great gift indeed!
Author’s Note: I try to practice what I preach and lean in to all the unpleasant scenarios life throws my way with the mantra “Don’t hate the situation.” It isn’t easy, and there are definitely a lot of times where I end up hating the situation anyways. Sometimes maybe even more so, just to spite myself. But just having that one moment of awareness, even in the worst times, does bring peace. I hope this helps you too. Comment down below, or Share to someone else whom it may. Follow along, back with more content next week!