Recently I went shopping for school supplies for my four-year-old who will be starting pre-school. I was very excited by all the cute little school things. After getting all the items on my list, I walked over to the cashier and unloaded them on the conveyor belt. The shopper ahead of me was just paying for her purchases. A young woman came up behind me with an overloaded shopping cart that she angrily rammed into the counter. Then she shoved my items out of the way and proceeded to unload her cart. Needless to say, I was amazed at her bad manners. My first thought was to tell her a piece of my mind, but that would only have made matters worse. And so thinking quickly, I turned to her and smiled. Undaunted, she looked at me defiantly, dares me to get angry too, as she continued to violently push my items out of the way. I knew she was just picking a fight. Obviously there was something eating away at her and she was looking for an excuse to get it off her chest. But guess what? I refused to become a part of her drama. And so I looked her straight in the eyes and smiled again. Soon enough my items were bagged and paid for and I walked out of that store feeling pretty proud of myself.
Eleanor Roosevelt's unforgivable words came to mind "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". This unknown woman at the store had given me her best. She had tried to make me feel unimportant and undeserving of respect. I too had offered her my best in return because I was not going to allow someone I had never seen before to control me. How many brawls and squabbles with total strains would have avoided if we remembered that we own our emotions! This is not to say that one is supposedly to sit back and become everyone's doormat. What it means is that some conflicts are not worth fighting; since we need to be wise and know how to pick our battles. These simple rules are very helpful:
1. Think fast. Being in control of your emotions requires quick thinking. Too often we react without really measuring the consequences of our actions or words and end up regretting how things turned out.
2. Do not take everything personally. Most of the time when somebody you do not know acts in a rude and disrespectful way towards you, it has nothing to do with you. Some time ago I was at a department store and the woman at the counter was really rude. Instead of marching up to management and filing a complaint, I leaned towards her and whispered "you look very tired". Immediately her face and her attitude changed and she confided in me that she was exhausted and still had at least four more hours to work. She was smiling when I left.
3. Be the bigger person. You've heard it before, and it's true: It takes two to tangle. As much as it lies inside you, walk away. Although the rude woman at the school supplies store deserved a tongue-lashing, nothing would have been gained by it. She clearly had serious issues she needed to deal with, but I was not interested in getting caught up in her mess.
4. The soft answer. It makes no sense to shout when you're trying to make a point to someone who is shouting at you. Validating their anger in a soft, even tone is much more effective.Always remember that you own your emotions and your reactions. You are at liberty to choose how you will respond. Use this freedom wisely.