Written by Kristin Greco, MSW & Edited by Madia Javid-Yazdi, M.Ed.
I have a memory of sitting in the driver’s seat at a stoplight. Instinctively, I look next to me and my gaze falls upon the driver in the adjacent car. She has tears running down her cheeks; a response revealing of intense pain or grief. I think of her throughout the day.
Now, years later, I still remember her from time to time; particularly when I experience (presumably) insensitive behaviours from others, and I’m certain I have not behaved in a way that warrants that kind of response. Occasionally, our reactions to others are elicited by an emotional fuse cut short by something unpleasant in our lives. As an example, when we are sad or angry, we might show displaced irritation toward those that happen to cross paths with us in that moment in time. Months ago, I was challenged to remember this during an encounter with my neighbour:
On a bright, cloudless morning, I slip outside to facilitate a car shuffle prior to everyone’s departure to work. Unlike other mornings, I decide to pull the car into my neighbour’s driveway to expedite (what I think will be) an easier car shuffle. I discover very quickly I am mistaken.
“Is there a problem?” my neighbour states in a perceived confrontational tone, hands raised in the air, indicating exasperation and annoyance. Immediately, I feel defensive and irritated by this seemingly unneighbourly approach.
“No,” I say steadily. “I am just turning my car around in your driveway,” I explain.
“Well, you’re trespassing. You should have made a three-point turn on the street!” My neighbour states this firmly while waving a finger at me authoritatively. I am stunned and can’t believe that a confrontation of this nature requires an output of my personal energy. I respect private property and I hear that it is upsetting for them to see that I use their driveway for the purpose of turning my car around. However, there are more respectful and assertive ways to communicate these needs.
I consciously white-knuckle the steering wheel. Images come to me of my clients experiencing grief, and my own emotions begin to surface for those in my family who received recent, devastating medical diagnoses. The insignificance of my neighbour’s upset is magnified in the grand scheme of my life. This momentary flood of imagery and emotion leave me with incredulous distain for my neighbour, and I succumb to their confrontational behaviour. I engage in a debate.
My neighbour does not know the challenges in my life, nor the experiences that influence my perspective of the world around me; and the way in which I perceive myself to operate within it. The same is true for me in my knowledge of my neighbour. Therefore, upon reflection, I realized our rhetorical argument was futile; there was no battle to be won.
I remember the woman crying in her car at the stoplight. She could have been any one of us. Like her, I have a unique story, as does my neighbour; perhaps it is an unpleasant one. In fact, my neighbour’s presumably unsympathetic approach may have resulted from a fuse cut short by something experienced only moments before our interaction. Although I am not suggesting tolerance of discriminatory/undesirable/discourteous and/or aggressive comments or actions, it may be therapeutic to pause and remind ourselves that we are unaware of the intricate stories of those we encounter each day; motivating the behaviours of individuals who cross our paths.
We each have a story; unique as it is, it can shape who we are even if we yearn for it not to; I wish I had remembered this on that bright, cloudless morning.