There is a tendency to fight fire with fire, to return sullenness or rudeness with anger, to do unto others as they have done unto us, only worse or more strongly. Lord knows that I’ve done so enough in my life! However, at the end of the day, when I sit with my journal and I review my day, how I have met the tests of the day, how I have responded to all the “pop quizzes” life sent my way, I’ve rarely been proud of those moments. Seldom have I not thought that I could have handled the moment better with tact, diplomacy, the soft answer that turneth away wrath.
It may be our tendency to retaliate, but our tendency does not have to be our destiny. Emotional self-control is the hallmark of maturity. The ability to pause and choose our response is the essence of civilization.
When I try to change my behavior, when I merely try to discipline or control my response, I tend to get only evolutionary change. To my delight and astonishment I have found that when I change my mindset, when I re-frame things, change how I interpret them, when I shift my paradigm of the situation, I am rewarded with revolutionary change in my emotions, thus in my behavior.
When I feel or allow myself to sense the pain, frustration, and fear of an angry or rude person, then it is easy for me to allow that person’s emotional storm to slide over me like water off a duck’s back. I remind myself, “no one who needs a smile more than someone who has none left to give,” and I give understanding. NOT saccharine sweetness that could easily be misunderstood for sarcasm, or ultra-cool politeness that can come across as distant or unfeeling. Instead I try to enter that person’s world, mirroring somewhat the mood but at a much toned-down level, like returning a tennis ball with a lot of backspin to slow down the pace of the game.
Most people are doing the best they can with what they have and where they are. Most would do better if they knew how, if they thought themselves capable, if they had better role models, or greater resources. I may not be able to change their world or perspective, but I can leave behind a smile and an example of graciousness even when provoked, a memory of someone who showed that it is possible to choose differently.
Remember: “No one needs a smile more than someone who has none left to give.”