Yesterday morning, someone lashed out at me verbally, including some unkind statements and a veiled threat. He was upset because something I inadvertently had done while helping a third person was causing him delay on his journey. Without getting into the details of the situation much less who was right or wrong, because that isn’t the point here, suffice it to say that neither of us was bathed in glory (although I had at least conducted myself professionally through the entire scene, and succeeded in my goal of not escalating the issue further).
I spent the rest of the morning recovering from this verbal bruising. Replaying the scene in my head again and again made it hard to concentrate on all the other things I had to do. I kept asking myself what I should have done differently, why I didn’t explain myself in a more coherent way on the spot, was it good that I had apologized, did this make me a bad person? It took a session at the gym to finally reach a more equilibrated state of mind.
Maybe not everyone takes as long as me to get over a negative interaction; in fact, I have heard that it can take as long as 24 hours for women to process emotion, so my elapsed time of six hours is not bad. But then again, it was a third of my waking hours spent in an unproductive way, never to be recouped.
The episode got me thinking about what we as individuals put out into the world, and the difference that our choices can make on the overall “happiness” quotient. Surely all human beings, regardless of gender, must feel something when an unpleasant situation occurs? And it stands to reason that there has to be some reaction to this kind of “incoming”, whether internalized or acted on externally. After all, isn’t it a law of physics that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction?
Was it a net gain for the world that this person vented his frustration – did his (temporary?) satisfaction outweigh the negative effect on me, and all the potential knock-on effects of my being upset? What if I had then gone on to lash out at others? Or maybe we cannot control our behavior in the heat of the moment, and it’s just tough luck?
I keep coming back to the idea that “random acts of kindness” can spread goodwill exponentially and create more positive energy/outcomes in the world whereas negative acts can do the opposite. Which leads to at least trying to temper the way we perceive a situation, and to choose our behavior consciously. And, of course, this applies equally to all parties involved (yes, me too!).
It’s true that we both had choices. He could have made his point in a different way, or magnanimously accepted my apology, or not made a big deal of my error, or escalated the situation even further. I could have been more careful about how I helped someone else, or stood my ground more firmly, or become antagonistic myself, or ignored the mishap entirely; I chose to reflect on it and write this blog instead.
As we all try to make better choices, even about the seemingly minor events in the course of our day, perhaps it helps to remember what one of my favorite teachers liked to say: what goes around comes around.