What I learned by getting mad at taxi drivers, airport security and missing my kids’ spring break.
Years ago, I committed to speak at a conference, without realizing at the time that this speaking engagement would cause me to miss most of my children’s spring break.
When the event was over, I wanted to get home as quickly as possible so that I could spend at least a day with my kids before they went back to college.
I’d already arranged to catch an earlier flight over the phone.
I thought everything was sorted out for me to arrive home early…
All I needed to do now was to make my way to the airport, go through security, and show up at the gate.
But when I arrived at the gate, the agent told me that there was a problem with my ticket. There’d been some kind of glitch, and it turns out I hadn’t been booked on the earlier flight after all.
“I can’t help you with that here,” the agent said, “You’ll have to go back to the ticket counter in the main terminal. Next!”
I told her that there wasn’t enough time for me to go back to the ticket counter… my flight was leaving in less than 10 minutes. And, the agent I’d spoken with on the phone to change to an earlier flight had told me to come straight to the gate, and so there I was.
But the agent wouldn’t budge.
“You’re keeping people waiting, ma’am,” she told me. “I can’t help you. Maybe next time you should listen better. Next!”
This is when I began to feel extremely frustrated
Thanks to the airlines’ mistake, and this person’s stubborn refusal to help me, I was going to miss my flight and miss out on an opportunity to spend time with my children.
Feeling incredibly upset, I unloaded on the agent. I told her exactly what I thought of her poor attitude and the situation, without holding anything back.
This didn’t change anything though — I still wasn’t allowed to get on the flight.
As I eventually turned to leave, defeated and still simmering, I heard a voice behind me say:
“Mary? Mary Morrissey? Is that you?”
I turned to look, and saw a person that I’d been coaching and mentoring.
This recognition quickly turned to embarrassment. I immediately felt horrified that this person I knew had witnessed my unkind outburst.
This was a painful lesson, but a valuable one
The truth is, I’d responded to the situation by thinking and behaving like a two-year-old. I wanted things to be MY way, and nothing else would do.
Did I misunderstand the agent I’d spoken to over the phone who had assured me my flight was changed? Probably not.
Did I have a right to feel upset? Sure.
But, as is usually the case in relationships of any kind, being right wasn’t actually that important. It wasn’t worth diminishing myself, and it only prevented me from practicing loving kindness.
For me to be right, someone else had to be wrong, and that created strife and separation between me and the other person.
Even though I missed my flight and the chance to spend some time with my children before they went back to college, I’m still grateful that I experienced this situation… because it reminded me of something far more important.
We may not always respond to rude or difficult people by being our best selves, but we always have the ability to reflect on how we reacted, so we can choose a better response next time.
A little while later, my “next time” came
A few years after the airport incident, I was on my way to give a speech at the United Nations, and I got into a taxi with my friend, Michael Bernard Beckwith.
I told the cab driver where we needed to go, but he was slurping a soda, and didn’t seem to hear me.
I repeated myself, and he promptly twisted around and growled, “Lady, if I want to hear where you’re going, I’ll ask ya!”
I waited for him to finish his drink, and finally, he asked us where we wanted to go. I told him, and he raised his voice accusingly.
“There are four buildings there. If you’re not going to tell me which building, or play games with me, I’m taking you no place!”
Just like that, I started to feel triggered again. I was on my way to give a speech on peace and nonviolence, but my feelings right then were far from peaceful!
I had to choose how I was going to respond
I flashed back to the incident at the airport years earlier, and the embarrassment I’d felt when I realized that someone who knew me had been watching me rant at the agent on the other side of the desk.
I didn’t want that to happen again, so this time, I took a deep breath and considered my options.
I knew I had a right to be upset at this rude cab driver, just as I’d had the right to be upset about the mix-up at the airport. But having the right to be upset didn’t make it right to actually ACT upset.
This time, I asked myself how I wanted to transform this negative energy.
I asked myself:
I remembered how he trained people to either proceed with their task when violence came their way, or to sit still until they could move forward again.
I wanted to proceed with love and compassion, rather than with a knee-jerk reaction of anger and resentment.
So I simply told the cab driver which building we were going to without any emotional charge to it, and we made the rest of our trip to the United Nations in silence.
When it was time to pay, I saw that I had the option to either pay him his fare with no tip, or to give him a tip that was twice the fare.
I was very tempted to pay only the fare. He certainly hadn’t provided customer service that deserved a tip.
But instead, I chose to be generous.
The driver looked up at me, and for just a second, his eyes filled with tears. “Thanks, lady,” he said gruffly.
Denying him his tip would have felt great for about five minutes, but showing him compassion and seeing his response filled me with a euphoria that lasted all day.
We all choose who we’re going to be, one encounter at a time
We all have times when we encounter rude people who trigger us.
Most of them vanish from our lives in an instant, but some are our co-workers, spouses, in-laws or neighbors with whom we have an ongoing relationship.
Whether the relationship is new and fleeting, or old and well-established, these people and situations enter your life for a reason — they give you the opportunity to think about who you choose to be in difficult situations.
They provide a moment of truth.
And the wonderful thing is that, in any given situation, you get to choose how you will respond. You always have that power.
So the next time you find yourself in a challenging situation with someone who is starting to drive you bonkers, simply pause, and tell yourself:
“I have the power to decide how I’m going to respond in this situation. What will I choose in this moment?”
Asking yourself this simple question will help calm any feelings of tension and aggravation you may be feeling, and will create some space for you to choose to react in a more loving and kind way to someone who may be struggling with something that you’re not even aware of.
Do you want to handle challenging people and situations with greater ease, grace and confidence?
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