I’ve dealt with random strangers when I’m taking transit who range from rude to aggressive. I have anxiety, so dealing with this roulette wheel every day can be incredibly challenging. I get frustrated, even angry at times, and today was starting to look like one of those days.
Someone got very angry with me for talking on the phone while I was on the bus. Granted, I tend to talk loud at times, so it’s possible this was the case this morning as well, but I was still shocked at how angry this person became. I initially had an intense surge of adrenaline; I could feel it all through my body. It was actually so intense that it reminded me of times when I’ve passed out. When that subsided, I went through a series of emotional responses. First, I was angry, and had the urge to retaliate somehow. Then I was afraid that I had angered other people as well, and she was just the only one to say anything, and I felt very uncomfortable.
Instead of resenting this person for ‘causing’ all of this inner turmoil, as I often would have done in the past, I looked for a lesson. I believe these things are gravitating to me for a reason, as they seem to happen quite a lot more frequently when I’m alone. In fact, it’s almost never happened when I’ve been with someone (even if we travel in silence and it isn’t obvious that we actually know each other). So I started to dig into it a bit.
What jumped out at me quite quickly is that I could empathize with this person. I’ve felt very angry at inconsiderate behaviour in my fellow travellers as well. Fairly often, in fact. I just almost never verbalize it. The few times I have, it has been on days when a horde of other problems have gathered around me in quick succession prior to the point where someone sets me off; this thought led me to imagine that there was a lot going on for this person today, and that I was the proverbial last straw.
I started to wonder why I get so upset with people when I don’t know their whole story, why I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt more often. I imagined how I would have reacted if this person had been a friend of mine. I know friends and family often get upset with each other in this manner, so it was easy to picture. I would have immediately been concerned for them. So why was I not concerned for this stranger? I thought of the saying, “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.” I think I properly understood this for the first time today. It always used to seem trite and saccharine, like “Everyone is a unique and beautiful snowflake.” Now, after what happened today, I realize that it’s about an attitude: if you look at people as though they are already your friends, you begin to treat them like they’re already your friends.
I am aware that there are ‘friendly’ people; it only just clicked into place that I am actually, internally, the opposite of friendly. Which I would define as adversarial. So up until now, I’ve held an adversarial inner space, hoping to avoid contact with my fellow humans. That changed today. Even just today, I had two great experiences with ‘strangers’ opening dialogues with me. The first was a person who observed the moment where someone got angry with me about the phone call, and they were very kind and compassionate with me. The second was someone just striking up a conversation with me about how everyone is always glued to their phones. These were both very enjoyable, and I felt like I had made friends with these people.
Maybe we were already friends and I just didn’t notice.
So seeing people as friends you haven’t met yet is an internal state, one where you meet them with kindness and compassion instead of fear and judgement. My stress and anxiety have already reduced just by this simple shift in perspective. It will take focus and intent to maintain, but I can see already that it will be well worth the effort.