Ever since Sunday I’ve been in a tangle of practical must-take-care-of-it tasks in the aftermath of getting rear-ended at a stoplight. Thanks be to God I was fine, and so was the other driver. Anyone who has been in a wreck knows that the mountain of things to deal with after it happens only prolongs the negative experience of the initial incident. So that’s what these past few days have been like for me – talking to multiple insurance companies, working with car rental services, working with my university’s campus police to get a temporary parking pass so my rental isn’t towed – etc!
In dealing with all of this, I often became frustrated when I sensed that the other person helping me through the task at hand was not treating me as a person. It was especially frustrating when I attempted to get a temporary parking permit for my rental car. As I left the parking permit office, I was fuming inwardly at the way the office staff had treated me – “She kept cutting me off” – I thought to myself –“She interrupted me constantly, she wasn’t empathetic to my situation, she treated me like I was dumb – ugh, sometimes the world is so NOT therapeutic! The world is NOT a nice place!”
This is where my perfection programming kicks in – I start brain storming all the ways that the problem could be fixed in an effort to make the world more perfect. My internal angry monologue takes off -“Personnel should be required to take communications and counseling classes so they won’t treat other people as objects! They should be trained to be compassionate towards people in a crisis!,” etc, etc. (Yes, it is sometimes exhausting to be me).
And then I realize – I’m trying to fight fire with fire, and in these types of situations that never works. I can’t just get defensive and starting yelling about everything that’s wrong with the world – though I’m sure it would be cathartic in some immediate sense, in the long run it would just fuel the fire. Rather, it is better to unplug from that reactionary frustration and anger, and step outside myself to try to see where the other person is coming from. Anger can be useful and righteous at times for sure – but only when we are in control of the anger, not the other way around.
Now, before you get the wrong impression, I emphatically do NOT mean, “the world is not a nice place so let’s all be nice to make it a nice place.” Ick. It has nothing to do with being nice in the sense that we should all plaster on smiles while we fume inwardly– that would just be asking for more trouble down the road.
What I do mean is that we should fight such fire, and such maltreatment and lack of awareness of the personhood of the other, with the proper antidote – treating the offender (and ultimately everyone) as a person; as a personal “you.” Aka, love them.
Love them. Practice awareness of your own inner reactions, give yourself permission to feel them, and then actively choose not to be reactive to offense (eg, forgive those who trespass against you, Mt 6:9-13). Actively choose to consider the other first. And all of a sudden, the situation is changed.
It is these actions that show real love. As CS Lewis said:
If conversion makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions then I think his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary.
As our hearts are converted more and more authentically towards the love of God, our actions will necessarily reflect it. From that inner conversion of love we are gifted with the strength and awareness to make the sacrifice of orienting ourselves through God to the “other/personal you.” In other words, grace helps us forgive, and look past the ends of our noses.
This won’t always change the situation for the better right away, and it sure as heck doesn’t fix everything – but it will, person by person, make the world a more human place – which, to me, is far better than “a nice place.”