I stopped getting annoyed at other drivers when I realized that many people just don’t know how to drive that well. Split-second decisions such as deciding when to pull out or pass and how close to follow require experience, and some drivers are just not that skilled. Also, a driver’s state of mind and physical well being changes from day to day, so if you are stressed or tired, you may not be as conscientious as the next driver.
Perhaps this is true of other aspects of life as well. Maybe I should be more willing to give the other guy a break in other areas of life, such as work habits, grooming habits, courtesy, and compassion. Maybe other folks have not had the experience to do those things well either. Most of the time it doesn’t pay to get upset at what we perceive as thoughtlessness. All that happens is that our peace gets stolen, and as therapist Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?” For most of us it doesn’t work very well.
People don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes people don’t know that they have a choice. It’s harder for people to emerge from bad situations if they don’t know they have a choice to do things a different way. Or perhaps they haven’t had the experience or an example of how to do things in a way that will bring them the most benefit. Sometimes people’s choices are temporarily taken out of their hands especially if decisions are made at an early age that will affect their lives for some time.
Recently, after a Miss America was crowned, old videos surfaced of her doing very un-Miss America like things. There was talk of removing her crown. However, the promoter of the pageant wanted to give her a chance to have a fresh start. As it turned out, there were reasons for her behavior that started when she was a child when decisions made by her parents and herself culminated in the actions shown on these tapes. Because the promoter was willing to give her a break, she went on to do a stunning job, and she was able to help a lot of people along the way by telling her story. She didn’t know what she didn’t know, and because someone gave her a break, she was able to learn.
Sometimes in my own life, I have rushed to judgment: “How could that person say that to me? How could he expect that of me? How could she do that to me?” and on and on. My peace was being stolen every step of the way. Then invariably I found out down the road that that person didn’t know the procedures or didn’t know the correct way to go about something or the right words to say. Instead of giving people a break, I started judging them and became a victim in the process. It’s a funny thing about victimization. When you feel like a victim, you invite victimization or you see it where no victimization is intended. The more you feel like a victim—a victim of bad drivers, a victim of a co-worker, a victim of someone’s perceived persecution—the more you don’t give someone a break, and the cycle begins again.
“It’s better to be kind than to be right” is a popular saying now, and I couldn’t find out definitively whom to attribute it to, but it’s beautiful. Since the Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying his religion is kindness, I’ll bet some equally wonderful thinker thought this up. And you know what? It is better to be kind than to be right. By being kind and giving someone a break, we might in turn receive a break ourselves. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t need a break every now and again.
Of course, there are limits, and I’m not condoning abuse of any kind. We still need to keep our boundaries strong and take care of ourselves. But maybe sometimes, if someone cuts us off in traffic, forgets to wear deodorant, doesn’t pull their weight at work that day, or gives us a grouchy answer, is it really all that important to get upset? Maybe giving someone the benefit of the doubt is the kindest thing we can do for that person and for ourselves. By taking this approach and giving others a break, we move away from victimization and toward co-creating a kinder world.