A couple of examples: I was walking through the grocery store parking lot and one of those monster trucks with the 6 foot radius wheels was pulling out of a parking spot. I was far behind him, as far as I could go actually, walking against the parked cars on the other side, but of course, he could not see me because of the huge height of his cab. I wasn't concerned about being hit: if he hit me, he would have hit the cars I was walking next to as well. None the less, when he started to pull forward he did see me, after which he blocked me in at my car and scolded me for walking behind his truck. I'll admit, all kinds of unkind, angry responses were running through my head, everything from, "Well, maybe you should rethink having a truck with such huge tires that you can't see well enough to drive!" to "It isn't other people's responsibility to help you see. If you can't see well enough to pull out of a spot, don't park there in the first place." Instead, at the point at which he said, "because if I were to hit you I'd be libel!" I responded with the really stupid, not kind, non-nonsensical response of, "well, if you hit me, I'd be dead and wouldn't really care anymore if you were libel." I wasn't able to respond with kindness. I couldn't think of a kind thing to say at the time that wasn't angry or snippy. I didn't like being scolded by a stranger, I felt I was in the right, I was already fighting some inner prejudice I admit I have against people who drive trucks with unnecessarily huge wheels, and I just wanted to be out of the situation. So I responded with a stupid, snippy response and moved on.
Second example: I came home after a long, hard day at work today dealing with other conflicted issues and was exhausted. I haven't been sleeping well because I've been worried about a large number of things lately, both personal and professional. So I was also tired from lack of sleep. I realized I could lie down for about 15 minutes before making dinner, taking the kids to dance and heading back to church for two meetings this evening, and so I made my way to the couch. I had just fallen asleep when the door bell rang. It didn't ring just once, but three times and then the loud knocking began. I hauled myself out of my sleep and headed towards the door. "Hi, I'm from x company and we are selling y. I hope I am not disturbing you..." Again, an opportunity to practice being kind. After all, that's my Lenten discipline, right? But I couldn't do it. "Actually, you are disturbing me. I was trying to take a nap, I need to help my kids with their homework, and I do not have time for this conversation. I'm sorry, but goodbye." And I shut the door. Of course, going back to sleep was out of the question. Instead, I stared into space for the last ten minutes because I couldn't get out of my head that it was another opportunity for kindness and another fail on my part.
I am gifted, every day, with opportunities to put into practice what I claim I want to do, to try to be the person I want to be. I see these situations as the chances that they are. But these interactions (as well as others I've had this week) have shown me that it is not enough to just say I want to do something. I have to prepare. I have to actually think through what might be kind responses in difficult situations, what might be ways to diffuse an angry encounter. "I hear you are upset. I am sorry if I have contributed to upsetting you," "Thank you for that advice. I will think about that. I hope the rest of your day goes better." "I realize you have the difficult job of being a door to door sales-person, so to save you time in the future, I'm telling you now that we are not going to buy from anyone coming to our door. But I wish you the best of luck."
I realize I won't be able to prepare for every potential situation because I don't know what they all are. But I can prepare somewhat by thinking of positive ways to interact with difficult people, by reflecting back on situations that I have not handled well, and I can strive to try to adapt thought -through responses when those situations arise.
I've used this story in sermons before: One day a woman hopped in a taxi and they took off for the airport. They were driving in the right lane when suddenly a red car jumped out of a parking space right in front of them. The taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at them. The taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. The passenger asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!' The taxi driver said that many people were like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you. "Don't take it personally," he said. "Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets. Do not let garbage trucks take over your day."
It's a great story. But again, I think it takes more than simply a commitment to behaving with kindness and grace. It also requires practice. So I will continue to look for the good around me. And I will also look for the opportunities to practice kindness in the face of anger, rudeness, and other "garbage." I saw the look of disappointment on the face of the salesman today. And while it was too bad my nap was disturbed, I also don't ever want to be the one responsible for making someone else's day worse. That's a choice I can try to make, each time there is an opportunity to choose between reactive anger or kindness.