We’ve all been there… running late, hoping to make up a bit of time on the road, and there’s the road construction. Sitting in line, waiting to move, we think dark thoughts about the members of the road crew, the DOT, and the government in general. And we completely forget it is our own fault for failing to plan ahead that has caused us to run late. It is precisely this type of negative thinking that can cause an ordinary day to spiral downward into rough and hellish realms. I’ve seen it, I’ve done it, and lately I’ve been seeing a lot of memes portraying various scenes of this behavior.
Stop it! Quityerbitchin! I would like to cheerfully remind you (and myself) that we have the power to change….basically everything! Because we have the power to choose, we can change the world. We can choose to get up earlier, to leave earlier, to check traffic reports and road conditions to try to be early or on time. We also have the power to choose which emotions to allow to rule the situation, which thought process to follow at any given time, which actions to take, and when to remain still and silent. And for those of us born after 1970, who may have missed out on those civics classes our elders sat through, we could use a healthy reminder of how taxes are designed to take a bit from all to benefit many. They were not invented by the Nazis to punish us.
Imagine the opening scenario a little differently. We are still running late, because stuff happens no matter how well we plan ahead. However, we accept the fact that we will be late, we plan our apology to be brief and honest, and we move on to thinking of other more productive things. We take a deep breath, blow away the negative energy, and think happy thoughts. When we arrive at the road construction, we think of how great it is to live in a country where we have a system designed to take just a small percentage of everyone’s income to help pay for the design, building, upkeep and repair, of roads and bridges to take us where we need to go. We look at the members of the road crew as people, just like us, working to pay their bills, and perhaps to pay for the education required to design that bridge rather than hold the sign that made us stop. Contrary to popular belief, they are not out there planning on where and when to make us late and miserable. We do that well enough on our own.
Now imagine how that kind of positive thinking can change other moments of your day. Waiting in line gets easier when you stop thinking of yourself and wonder about the inner thoughts and outer lives of those in line with you, or those serving you. If we stop to make eye contact, to actually connect when greeting people, to remember our shared humanity, we can make the difference between suffering in silence and commiserating with our fellow human beings. We all have stories that need to be shared. Rushing through our days consumed with our own story prevents us from ever hearing the others’. If we can learn to slow down and take a few moments to acknowledge our co-journeyers and to hear a bit of their stories, we may find ourselves feeling a bit less alone and harried.
“There but for the Grace of God go I” is a favorite quote of mine. It is a humbling reminder that I am no better than any other human being. If I am honest with myself when I look back over my life, I can see moments when a different choice would have made a big difference that may not have been a good one. And I can see many times when a kind word from a stranger made all the difference in the world. It can be hard to believe in yourself. When you are young, tired, stressed, untrained, unsure, overwhelmed by all that life has thrown at you, it can be very difficult to see the path. When those around you are self-absorbed and self-centered, it can be even harder to find a way through. When you have struggled and failed repeatedly, it can be hard to find the faith to try again because you expect more failure. It becomes a way of life. You are trapped in a downward spiral of negative thinking that you can’t escape. That is how people become mentally ill, how they lose jobs, lose relationships, become homeless. Despair is a powerful emotion.
You have the power to change that. You can look into someone’s eyes, and ask them how they are, and listen to their answer. You can refrain from telling stories that show how you’ve had it worse somehow. You can listen and say nothing. You might be able to think of something kind to say. Sometimes kind words and positive advice can be helpful. Sometimes all they need to know is that they’ve been heard. You don’t have to know all the answers. With practice, you learn when to share, and when to just listen.
Be the change you wish to see in the world. Begin as you mean to continue. Be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud. Be the hope….wise words from wonderful people. These are all a great place to start, and wonderful way to live. But if all of that seems to be too much for you today, then I ask you to simply Be. To simply Be is to do no harm, to affect no one, to save your strength and energy for another day. It is the best place to start.