What Are We All So Afraid Of?

“Be not afraid.  A kind life, a life of spirit, is fundamentally a life of courage—the courage simply to bring what you have, to bring who you are.” (Wayne Muller)

Attribution: Donna CameronAs I continue to re-examine some of the key ideas that emerged during my initial year of living kindly, I note how often fear emerges as a barrier to kindness—both to our expressing it and to our receiving it. And beyond inhibiting kindness, fear is also very often at the root of unkindness and incivility.

Why is fear such a big factor in keeping us from being our best selves?

Extending Kindness

We’re often hesitant to extend a kindness because we fear the result. Is it the right thing? Will I say the wrong words? Is it enough? Is it too much? Will it be rejected? Will I be rejected? If I offer assistance to someone, will they take offense that I perceived them as incapable? Fear can be paralyzing and our opportunity to express it passes by swiftly.

We also fear embarrassment. Kindness may take us out of our comfort zone; it may ask us to do something new. Perhaps we’ll be clumsy or awkward, or we’ll call attention to ourselves in an unwelcome way. If I stop to hand a couple of dollars to someone in need, will my companion scold me and call me a bleeding heart?

The question we all too often fail to ask is, “Could my kindness here make a positive difference?”

Receiving Kindness

On the receiving end of kindness, we may fear being perceived as weak or needy. Or perhaps we want to maintain a distance between ourselves and the giver; we fear strings may be attached to the proffered kindness. Receiving can be just as awkward and clumsy as giving—maybe we fear we don’t deserve the kindness, or it is out of proportion to our own smaller generosity. Maybe we’ll embarrass the giver, or ourselves. Accepting the kindness of others with grace and appreciation is itself an act of kindness. And a pretty easy one, at that. But it takes practice. Whether you are offered a material gift, assistance, or a compliment, do your best to receive it courteously and savor the kindness.

Perhaps the question to ask here is, “What’s the most gracious response I can offer?”

Behaving Unkindly

When we see unkindness, at its root is often fear. When someone lashes out at another person, it may not be for anything the person has or hasn’t done. They are simply the nearest individual on whom to deflect blame, embarrassment, or anger. Not so long ago at a downtown hotel parking lot, a number of people were in line at the payment kiosk. The person who was trying to pay could not get his credit card to work. He turned it one way, then the next, he inserted it slowly, then quickly. He tried a different card with the same result. People behind him were beginning to get impatient, though they tried not to show it. Finally, someone suggested pushing the button that would summon an attendant. When the attendant arrived, he helped the fellow process his payment in less than 30 seconds. Instead of being grateful, the man just got angrier. He berated the attendant for the machine’s poor quality, and for the exorbitant price of the parking, and finally for the inconvenience he was subjected to. Perhaps he was angered over the inconvenience, but it appeared more likely that he was embarrassed and feared the judgment of people waiting behind him to pay. Were they thinking he was incompetent? After all, none of the people ahead of him had experienced any problem with the machine.

Many of the things we fear are threats to our pride, to the image we have of ourselves. When our pride is threatened, when we fear that others—or even ourselves—will see that we are not as strong, smart, capable, or lovable as we believe ourselves to be, we often strike out or strike back. We act unkindly.

The question to ask here is, “What am I afraid of?”

I think one of the best moments of our lives is when we stop worrying about what other people think of us or how we are being judged. The truth is that most people are far too concerned with themselves to spend much time appraising others. And those who do want to belittle, snicker, and sneer simply aren’t worth worrying about!

Change the Question

When I first wrote about how fear inhibits our kindness, I suggested that the question we often ask ourselves in the face of fear, “What’s the worst that could happen?” is the wrong question to ask. I still believe that’s true. Much better is to ask, “What’s the best that could happen?” Focusing on best enables us to see the potential our kindness holds—to brighten a life, to alter the tone of an encounter, to change the world. We need to remember that kindness has ripples far beyond our awareness. A seemingly small action could trigger others, which trigger still more, and, ultimately, might be the tipping point that transforms the world.

Focusing on best diminishes our fear and also keeps our desired goal front-and-center in our mind. If we focus on worst, our subconscious points toward it. If we focus on best, all our capacities conspire to make that happen. All it takes is practice and confidence that the path of kindness will lead us where we want to go.

The Power of Kindness

Many people still choose to see kindness as a sign of weakness. They erroneously equate it with being wishy-washy or a pushover. If I exhibit kindness, I’ll be inviting others to take advantage of me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kindness takes strength, it takes resolve and courage, and the willingness to be vulnerable.

When fear threatens to deter our kindness, or to incite unkindness, we need to remember that kindness has the ability and power to vanquish our fears. Then, step past the fear and claim our kindness.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” (Amelia Earhart)

When My Kindness Is Your “Yuk!”

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” (Rumi)

Attribution: Donna CameronWhen my husband is sick, he wants to be left alone. He’s like an animal that crawls off to die in seclusion. I would like to fuss over him, fluff his pillows, mop his brow, croon “poor baby,” but that’s not what he wants.

When I’m sick, I like a little attention—not a lot, just check in on me occasionally, make sure I’m still breathing, and see if I want some ginger ale or a couple of choruses of “Soft Kitty.” Over the years, Bill has perfected exactly the right amount of solicitous attention to help me feel cared for but not smothered. A few degrees in either direction and I would feel either neglected or pestered.

That’s one of the challenges of kindness: learning to meet the other person’s needs and not impose your own.

It’s for this reason I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the “golden rule,” do unto others as you would have them do unto you—a sentiment promulgated by nearly every major religion. The problem is: what I may want in certain circumstances may not be what another person might want. If I always go by what I’d like, it’s quite probable I won’t meet the other person’s needs.

For example, I tend to be a fairly private, low-key person. As a rule, I don’t like to be the center of attention (the exception being when I have a microphone in my hand). I’m not comfortable with effusive thanks or effusive praise. But I know other people who are—who welcome it and thrive on it. Were I to follow the golden rule, I would treat them with the reserve that I prefer for myself. My preferences aren’t everyone’s preferences, though, and if lavish and unrestrained praise are what my friend craves, that really is what I want to offer him.

The “platinum rule” says treat others the way they want to be treated. That requires more mindfulness on our part, and an ability to be empathetic. We also risk guessing wrongly. “I thought for sure she’d like being serenaded by the high-school marching band for her birthday, but it turned out she would have preferred a quiet dinner for two.” Oops!

Another example: I don’t like surprises. They leave me tongue-tied and inspire a sort of “fight or flight” response. If something wonderful is coming my way, I want to know about it well in advance so I can savor not only the experience, but the anticipation of it. And, if it’s something not so wonderful coming my way, I want to know about that, too, so I can be prepared and have time to think about how I will handle it. I. don’t. like. surprises.

But I have friends who love surprises, and I would never deprive them of that pleasure because I don’t understand or share the attraction. Under the platinum rule, I consider their desires and help plan the surprise party or maintain secrecy about the big event to come. I may not agree, but I respect their preference and honor it.

This is probably easier to do with people we know well. After a few years (decades?) of trial and error, we understand their needs and wishes, we know how to please.

It’s harder with casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances. We may make the mistaking of assuming that what they’d like is the same as what we’d like.

It’s even harder with strangers. How on earth can we know what they want? I read a comment recently from a man who said he had ceased offering his seat on the bus to women, the elderly, or people who appeared to be disabled. After eight people refused his offer, displaying varying levels of offense that he thought they were incapable of standing, he resolved to keep his nose in his book and not offer again.

There’s no question that it’s awkward and uncomfortable when our attempts at kindness are rejected. I can also understand the point of view of the people who refused his kind offer—it may have made them feel weak, or challenged their independence. As I think about how I might react in that situation, I’m guessing I would probably refuse, too (though graciously, I hope), thinking I don’t need any special treatment and am perfectly capable of standing. The question becomes: is it kinder to accept his offer or to allow him to keep his seat? It all depends on your perspective. No wonder people abandon civilization and make their homes in hermit caves. It’s a whole lot easier than navigating social niceties in a complex world.

I wonder if there is a way to offer that makes it easier on everyone. Perhaps he could say, “I would love to offer you my seat if you would consider taking it,” while rising and offering his most dazzling smile.

Knowing that our kindness may sometimes be unwelcome shouldn’t deter us from extending kindness to the best of our ability and our judgment. It means never assuming we know what someone else wants, but asking. And if we are on the receiving end of misdirected or clumsy kindness, we need to be able to appreciate the intent, even if it missed the mark.

The best we can do is the best we can do….

“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy’.” (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

9 Barriers to Kindness

“I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” (William Penn)

kindness highlightedWhen things get out of hand, we all have different ways of regaining control of our lives. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I organize.

I need to make a distinction between organizing and cleaning: I don’t clean, my husband will be the first to tell you that, so to prevent him from posting an unflattering—but entirely true—description of just what a slob I am, I will repeat: I do not clean, I rarely straighten, I tend to be entirely oblivious to clutter. I’m not proud of that fact, but sadly, it’s absolutely true.

However, when I am besieged by deadlines and overcome by the sheer volume of tasks and responsibilities facing me, I get busy organizing. Once I have organized my life, I feel like I am back in control and able to tackle all of my obligations steadily and timely—and even enjoy doing them.

My first step in organizing is to make a list, or, more accurately, multiple lists. I make lists of everything I need to do and then sub-lists of the various steps to doing them. I make lists of things I need to remember. I make chronological lists, shopping lists, task lists … and when things get truly overwhelming, I make a list of lists I need to make. That is the point I have reached this week.

It was in this list-making frenzy that I realized I haven’t made many lists related to kindness. Maybe I hadn’t yet reached the stress-level needed for that. Fortunately, the universe has conspired to remedy that, and kindness has joined the ranks of lists that I employ to organize and bring order to my life.

The first list I sat down to write enumerates the barriers to kindness—the things that get in the way of our being kind or compassionate. I’ve identified nine factors that might keep us from being our best self. They are in no particular order, but the first is probably the biggest:

Fear – I could write an entire post just about fear (oh, in fact I did), but to condense it here, there’s a smorgasbord of fears to choose from:

  • Fear of Rejection – the gift of our kindness might be misunderstood or spurned. Ouch!
  • Fear of Embarrassment – what if I extend kindness clumsily and look foolish? Ouch, again!
  • Fear of Judgment – people will say I’m weak or maybe gullible. More ouch.

Better to do nothing than to risk the vulnerability…or is it? Part of the solution to dealing with fear is to focus not on the bad things that might happen but on the good outcomes you are seeking to bring forth. That’s a sure way to banish fear.

Laziness and Inertia – While there are certainly kind actions we can take that don’t require a lot of energy (a smile, a compliment, a door held open), many kindnesses do require that we extend ourselves. They require that we get off our butts, go out of our way, and sometimes even leave our comfort zones. Usually it’s just a matter of taking the first step and then our intentions take over and kindness ensues. But the hurdle is that first step and overcoming the inertia to take it.

Indifference – The antithesis of kindness, indifference is a barrier to living a kind life. One cannot be kind if caring is absent; one cannot be kind if one is willing to shrug and say, “It’s not my problem.” Indifference may be how we protect ourselves from strong feelings, from the caring that moves us to action. It may be comfortable to wallow in indifference, but kindness requires that we stop being a spectator and jump into life.

Entitlement – Sadly, there are many people who see kindness—if they see it at all—as something that can be selective. It’s not as essential to show kindness to the clerk, the cashier, or the homeless person as it is to the VIP who can help one get ahead or feel powerful. There’s an adage that says “a person who is kind to you but rude to the waiter is not a kind person.” It’s so true; selective kindness isn’t kindness, it’s opportunism. Kindness is something we extend to everyone at every opportunity.

Obliviousness – It’s easy to miss opportunities to be kind if we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around us. We may not notice that there is a person behind us for whom we can hold a door, or that someone needs help carrying their groceries, or that a child is frightened or sad. Too often, we allow technology to take precedence over human connection—we are constantly absorbed in our hand-held devices, oblivious to the life around us and the myriad opportunities we have to offer the gift of our kindness. We can even be oblivious to our own need for self-care—unaware that we have depleted our energy and need to engage in some personal renewal if we want to be able to care for others. Paying attention to our lives is easier said than done, but it’s one of the essential elements of a kind life.

Habit – If we are in the habit of saying no, it’s hard to say yes—to someone who asks for assistance, for our time, or for a dollar or two to help them make it through the day. Of course, we can’t say yes to everything or everyone, but whichever answer we choose should come out of conscious conviction, rather than robotic routine.

Not enough timeIt takes time to be kind—to pause and think about what the kind response is, to offer assistance knowing that it might delay us from our tightly-packed schedule, to connect on a human level with the people we encounter throughout the day. It even takes time to be kind to ourselves—an essential quality to being able to extend kindness to others. In the face of so much hurrying, it helps me to remind myself that my number-one job is kindness; all else comes second.

ImpatienceImpatience might be a subset of feeling one doesn’t have enough time, but it’s more than that. We may have all the time in the world and still be impatient with someone who lacks skill or understanding in something. It’s just easier to roll our eyes and do it ourselves than to extend the kindness—the patience—to teach, or coach, or watch while someone fumbles or stumbles. Offering genuine patience is always a kindness.

FatigueResearch has shown that when we’re over-tired we’re not only more prone to accidents, have difficulty learning, and feel stressed, but we are also more likely to commit unethical or unkind acts. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value sleep more than ever—and knowing that it helps make me kinder just makes my bed even warmer and cozier.

Having made a list, I already feel better. No OCD tendencies here. Have I left anything out? When you miss an opportunity to be kind, can you ascribe it to any of the above, or are there other reasons?

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” (Albert Schweitzer)

Kindness Report Card

 “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong.  Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.”  (George Washington Carver)

gradesThe first three months of my year of living kindly have passed like a kid on a skateboard.  Since the end of a quarter seems like an appropriate time for a report card, I will indulge in some self-evaluation.

Am I kinder than I was three months ago?  I think so, but my husband says he hasn’t noticed any difference.

Admittedly, Bill sees me at my worst.  He’s also quick to alert me when I fall short of my intent.  After an apple-green Fiat pulls out right in front of our car from a side street causing me to mash down my brakes, and then slows to a crawl ahead of me, I say, “Oh, come on, lady, really, how about looking both ways?”

Bill’s response: “Was that kind?”  No, probably not.

[Note to self for next time I embark on anything of this nature: do not share intentions with husband—assuming same husband; do not invite him to follow blog.]

As I review the concepts I’ve explored over the last three months, I see that there are some areas where I have taken my ideas to heart, and some where I may not have picked up my own gauntlet.

Overall, I guess I’d give myself about a C+.  Just looking at that grade makes me shudder.  When I was in school (back in the days of crinoline and manual typewriters), anything less than an A was terribly upsetting, and anything lower than a B—well—other than a C in penmanship in 4th grade—I never got any grades lower than B’s (and very few of those).  So giving myself a C+ in kindness feels like failing a test in a favorite subject.

In our office, we’ve been talking a lot about evaluations, and we decided there’s a lot to be said for a simple “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” method.  Thumbs up indicates that one’s on the right track, and thumbs down indicates the need for a lot more work.

thumbs downUnder the “needs a lot of work” area of my report card, I would list the following:

Kindness awareness – My tendency toward obliviousness throughout most areas of my life extends to kindness.  I am missing opportunities to be kind by simply not seeing them.  Just as I step over piles of clutter in my office and totally don’t see dirty dishes on the kitchen counter, I am often oblivious to situations where I could offer a kind word or deed.  It is not intentional, it is my own failure to be present and mindful.  I think it’s called GAD (general awareness disorder), and there’s undoubtedly a pharmaceutical company looking into it, or a support group for us somewhere, but, well, who’s paying attention…?

Being judge-y – I think I am doing better here, but I still catch myself with unkind or critical thoughts.  I am, however, far less likely to voice them and more able to brush them aside.  I still find myself wondering, though, about the people who allow their screaming kids to run around the restaurant, or the ones who leave their carts blocking the grocery aisle while they talk on their phones.  I guess they are oblivious in their own ways, too.  Someone told me that it’s okay to think snarky thoughts if I keep them to myself.  I’m not so sure about that, but I’ll take a pass whenever offered.

Risking rejection or looking foolish – At times, I am still hesitant to extend a kindness if I fear it will be rejected.  Likewise, I have passed on opportunities to be kind if I feared they would draw unwanted attention or if I might appear incompetent or foolish.  I play it too safe.  I am incompetent and foolish in so many areas of my life—might as well admit it, get over it, and plough through.

thumbs downMy report card might classify these as “on the right track”:

Patience – While still a long way to go, I am more patient.  I am taking to heart my own perspective that if my #1 job is to be kind, then it’s much easier to be patient when someone or something gets in my way or slows me down.  If being kind supersedes all else, the time it takes shouldn’t bother me—and, more and more, it doesn’t.

Kindness expectations – I am making an effort to expect kindness and smooth sailing in all my interactions, and with very few exceptions that is what I am experiencing.  It does appear that given a chance most people’s default setting is kindness.  The downside to this is that I have had almost no opportunities to see how I do at expressing kindness in the face of unkindness or rudeness.  People are all just so nice.

Kindness awareness – Yes, this was also on my “needs work” list, but there are areas of progress.  I have gotten in the habit of frequently asking myself before I say or do something: Is this the kindest action?  Is this the kind response?  And there have been times when that pause has enabled me to adjust my course or choose differently or more wisely.  A couple of weeks ago, I was stopped for speeding—first time in 35 years.  As the policeman walked up to my car, I reminded myself to be kind and friendly—that this part of his job was not always pleasant.  Are you thinking that I charmed him out of writing me a ticket?  No, that didn’t happen, but he very kindly wrote me up for only five miles above the speed limit, instead of the thirteen I was actually going, which saved me about $70 on the ticket.  I thanked him very sincerely.  Now, on my way home from work, when I see him parked in that same hidden driveway, I am tempted to wave, but I fear he may misinterpret the sign.

Expressing appreciation – Going back to that oblivious thing, I know I am still missing a lot of opportunities to express appreciation, but I am also doing it more: commending people for their work, notes of appreciation, sincere thanks.

So, as a new quarter starts, I see that I have some work to do: I want to extend kindness more even when it may be out of my way or inconvenient—always mindful that it’s my #1 job.  I want to take some risk and be kind even if it might not be comfortable.  I want to overcome inertia and obliviousness and expand my kindness radar.  I want to continue to pause, to express thanks, and look for the kind response.  I also want to get at least a B next quarter, or find a teacher who grades easier….

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”  (Tom Bodett)

On the Receiving End of Kindness…

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.”  (Sophocles)

[As I wrote this post, I had the distinct impression that this might be a gender-specific issue.  So to any men who happen to read it, take what you will, and perhaps there will be something that you can relate to.  Accept that you are wise, and handsome, and remarkably accomplished….]

Attribution: Donna CameronEven if we don’t have the resources to give all that we would like to give, we always have the capacity to receive graciously.  It sounds so simple, but it can be surprisingly hard.  Think of the times someone tried to give you something and you demurred—perhaps because you didn’t think they could afford it, or you didn’t feel worthy, or it was simply your initial reaction to an awkward situation.  Maybe the gift wasn’t something you wanted; perhaps you didn’t want to feel indebted.  Or maybe you are among the cynical who wonder what’s the catch?

Did your refusal of their offer please them, or did it disappoint?  In retrospect, would a gracious thank-you have made both of you happier and immensely more comfortable?

Giving is such a pleasurable act.  Yet we often deny our friends and acquaintances—and even strangers—the joy and satisfaction of giving by being such terrible receivers.

And the gift doesn’t have to be something material.  How often do we devalue the gift of another’s words by refusing their compliments?  We deflect kind words about our appearance by saying, “No, I look terrible!  My hair needs cutting and I need to lose ten pounds, and look, I’ve lost a button on this shirt.”  Do you really think they complimented us just to hear us point out all our flaws?  I seriously doubt it.

How much better to respond with, “How nice of you to say so,” or “Thanks for your kind words, they make me feel great!”

In his book, Imperfect Alternatives, Dr. Dale Turner quotes a friend who chided him for brushing off a compliment: “When someone gives you a compliment in words, don’t disagree or minimize what he says, for words are gifts, too.  Accept them gratefully, even though you don’t think you deserve them….. A compliment is a gift not to be thrown away carelessly unless you want to hurt the giver.”

We also reject compliments on our achievements by down-playing them.  We say, “No, it really wasn’t anything special. Anybody could have done it.  I was lucky.” It’s as if we are saying, No, you dolt. Can’t you see I’m really an incompetent nincompoop?  It’s always great to share credit—that’s another form of kindness (not to mention decency)—but minimizing the overall accomplishment serves no one.

How much better to say, “Thank you, I’m really pleased with the result, too,” or “Yes! Don’t we have a fabulous team!?”

As I pose the question of why accepting compliments is something most of us aren’t very good at, I realize this is a much larger issue for women than for men. When was the last time you complimented a man on his new suit and he responded by saying that it makes his butt look big?  Doesn’t happen.

Most of the men I interact with know how to accept compliments about their work.  Hell, they expect kudos … and good for them for having those expectations.

A lot of women were raised with the direct or indirect instruction to hide their light under a bushel.  Our mothers told us to be modest.  Our teachers encouraged humility and restraint.  Somebody else kept mumbling that the meek will inherit the earth.

Let’s Reframe Our Response to Compliments

Perhaps if we reframe our response to gifts and compliments we can learn to receive them.  Instead of questioning whether we deserve them, or fearing that we will appear conceited, or that we are getting more than our share, let’s stop thinking about ourselves and think instead about the giver.  Think about the kindness we can extend to them by accepting their gift with grace.

Why don’t we all set an intention of receiving compliments graciously for the next 21 days and see how that feels.  No demurring.  No downplaying.  No false modesty.  And while we’re at it, let’s extend some compliments.  I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a few.  Do you?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)

Rejecting Kindness

“Kindness can become its own motive.  We are made kind by being kind.” (Eric Hoffer)

Attribution: Donna CameronIt can be upsetting and bewildering when someone rejects our kindness.  An act which was meant to be helpful and benign is rebuffed or rejected.  Sometimes, the intended recipient even lashes out at us.  What did we do wrong?  Are we in some way at fault, or inadequate?

As a result, the next time we want to extend a kindness, we hesitate—fearing rejection or scorn.  Our act of kindness dies before it is born.  Some weeks it feels like there is worldwide scarcity of kindness, and we must do our part to keep the impulses alive.

There is a simple saying that I use often in working with groups or in one-on-one situations:  We assume one another’s good intent.  So simple, and yet so powerful. If only we could always remember it!

The Seattle Times runs a daily section call “Rant and Rave.”  It invites readers to share examples of good and bad behavior and positive and negative encounters in our community.  The raves are frequently descriptions of generosity and kindnesses experienced and witnessed—they’re often uplifting and touching, little vignettes that reinforce our shared humanity.  Here’s an example: “For the Men’s Warehouse employees who helped my developmentally disabled son have the senior prom he’d dreamed of, and for his teachers who made it all happen. It was a night he’ll never forget!”

The rants, on the other hand, often describe careless, rude, or unscrupulous deeds or situations.  A rant caught my eye recently: “To the guy in the VW who flipped me the bird, mouthed obscenities through the glass and then sped off when I was knocking on his window to let him know his tire was flat.”

Who knows why the driver reacted as he did.  He may have been frightened, surprised, or embarrassed.  He may have thought he was caught doing something naughty.  He may have been having a lousy day and the knock on his window put him over the edge (if that’s the case, the dawning awareness of a flat tire a short time later can’t have added to the day’s enjoyment).  But how sad it is that the first reaction some people have to unexpected contact by strangers is to strike out at the individual.

Road Rage

We’ve all heard of road rage precipitated by a honking horn when someone fails to notice the light has turned green.  A tap on the horn is a kindness under those circumstances, one to be responded to with a wave of thanks as the driver proceeds through the light.  Too often it initiates an angry gesture, a curse, or even a brandished weapon.

For those reasons, we are often wary.  I’ve seen lines of cars patiently waiting through two green lights for the oblivious driver to notice that the light has changed (this is Seattle, remember, we are boundlessly courteous).  Rather than honk, I once saw a man get out of his car and politely tap on the driver’s window of the car ahead.  For his effort, he was rewarded with an unkind gesture and screech of tires as the driver shot through the now-yellow light.  I’m sure the driver was embarrassed, but what is it about embarrassment that makes some of us lash out.

Embarrassment

Embarrassment is part of the human experience.  It’s also what makes us human, whether an unzipped fly, a broccoli-adorned tooth, or a verbal gaffe.  It happens.  We’ve all been there.  To not risk embarrassment is to shun human contact entirely.  It seems to me that grace is the ideal response to those embarrassing moments.  More broadly, though, isn’t grace the best response to almost anything?

I hope the driver who knocked on the window of the VW isn’t deterred from doing so the next time s/he thinks a stranger would want to know what s/he has noticed.

And I hope we all (myself most definitely included) can learn to react with grace when someone tries to help us.

 “He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” (St. Paul)