year of living copyOut of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.
— Winston Churchill


Laura writes about stopping at a convenience store recently: Opening my car door, I accidentally bumped the next car over. I got out and checked for damage and was relieved to find that there wasn’t so much as a smudge on the other car. Going inside on my errand, I was verbally accosted by a woman who yelled at me about the damage I had caused to her car and, worse, about how obvious it was that I didn’t care about the damage as long as I thought no one saw me cause it. Perplexed (since I had checked the car, and very much did care), I asked the woman to show me the damage; the woman fumed and blustered, but since she was still inside the store and hadn’t looked at her car yet, she was obviously unable to do so when we walked outside together.

“You people in your expensive cars think you own the world,” the woman growled as a parting shot as she drove away. I looked at my car with new eyes (it’s not in the luxury class, I can assure you) and then watched as the woman screeched tires out of the parking lot. I was deeply upset by the encounter, and drove to a nearby park to think about what had happened. I felt a sense of outrage at the accusations that had been made, and unsettled by the amount of hostility that had been directed at me. As I sat in the park, a realization settled over me: “You people” must have been made up of a huge list of grievances committed over time. For whatever reasons, I represented the hostilities with which this woman had felt targeted. By putting myself in her place as best as I could, and trying to understand the world from her angle, I was able to let go of my outrage and join her in her own. I tasted the lack of respect she was carrying around on her shoulders like a heavy cape in summer. This allowed me to locate an empathy and comprehension within myself that I would not otherwise have been able to reach. That, in turn, allowed me to let go of my own upset.


Next time you are the target of hostility, take a moment to yourself from your own experience. Put yourself into the experience of the other, asking yourself these questions:

  • What feelings is the other person having right now?
  • What experiences might have contributed to this person’s hostility?
  • How might I feel/behave if I had had the same experiences as this person?

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