We’ve all been annoyed at strangers. You know what it’s like: the woman walking far too slowly on the street in front of us, that man who decides to merge into our lane without indicating, the child in the café who interrupts our morning coffee by throwing a tantrum.
Yes, it’s easy to become frustrated by the actions of other people. During the course of your day several things can happen that can make you feel unfairly targeted: the waitress forgets your order, you run for the train but the driver has closed the doors, you always seem to end up in the line with the slowest cashier at the supermarket. But why do they make us feel so annoyed?
I used to be a serial street dodger. In a crowded street, I would be the one weaving around and between people, trying to get ahead. Slow walkers frustrated me no end. When I ended up behind a slow-moving person I would become unnecessarily angry. One day, I mentioned this to a friend and I said: It’s like, move! Don’t these people realise I’m trying to get somewhere? I laughed, trying to get him on board. But my friend wasn’t having any of it.
He turned the situation around and made me see through the eyes of the other person – this person was probably happier than me because they were in less of a hurry. In taking their time, they allowed themselves to see more detail – products in shop windows, the other people on the street, cars zipping by on their way to wherever. It wasn’t their problem I was mad. And where was I going in such a hurry? Most likely nowhere of any great importance.
What happens when we allow ourselves to become angry in this way? For one, we fail to remember that those on which we are pinning our frustrations are just people too, and that we are not the only ones trying to get around. Second, and most importantly, we actually give them our energy. In becoming angry we lose control of ourselves and we allow these strangers to affect our emotions – and sometimes our entire outlook on the day.
It’s a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?
Much of Buddhist teaching centres around the notion that true happiness comes from the individual alone, and inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event to control your emotions. Whether you’re a believer in Buddhism or not, you can’t deny there’s some real truth in this.
You can be pretty sure that woman isn’t walking slow on purpose – despite how you may feel – she’s not doing it to make you angry. The same goes for the screaming child. Children have a hard time learning how to be ‘people’ and we should forgive them for not knowing all the rules yet. As for that man veering into our lane – our lane – without even indicating, are we really going to let him make us hot under the collar?
The important thing to remember is that these things aren’t happening to you, they’re just happening. How you choose to react to these situations is the only thing that matters.
At least, that’s what I think. How about you?