And then this happened:
I was flying with my three kiddos to visit my in-laws in Florida. As I approached the ticket counter to inquire about our stroller, my then 6-year-old wandered over to the window, taking in the planes. The previous flight began to de-board and the first woman out made a blatant display of annoyance and disapproval that my daughter was in her way. Her arms flapped. Her eyes rolled. Her mouth uttered unkind words.
Mind you, the ticket counter was within two feet of the de-boarding lane. Still, I quickly reached for my daughter’s hand and abruptly pulled her aside, while turning to the woman and saying, “That was unnecessary.” She responded with another scene, dramatically shrugging her shoulders and shouting (as she continued to walk while also venting on the phone), as if allowing my child to meander into that lane was the worst possible display of parental neglect.
I turned to my daughter, who looked confused. “Why did she say all those things, Mama?” she asked. “I wasn’t even doing anything wrong.”
I told her that some people are unhappy, a lot. And they lash out at other people.
I know my daughter doesn’t quite get it yet. But someday she will. She, too, will feel other people’s judgments as achingly as I have at times.
So I want her to know what has taken me years to understand: other people’s opinions of us – and how they respond to us – often have so little to do with us.
It’s our human nature to project our own self and world views upon others, which happens to include all of the insecurities and limiting beliefs that we hold. We ascribe the rules and limits by which we live unto them. We judge them because of our own discomfort or pain or inability to be with whatever experience it triggers within us.
And sometimes, we are so caught up in the moment that we are hijacked by our pain.
And, like that woman at the airport, we spew meanness.
I wish she had more presence – more consciousness – about the impact she was making on me, my daughter, and those who witnessed it. But as I look back at the incident now, one thing is clear to me: I didn’t need to take it on.
If I could go back, I would have gently taken my daughter’s hand, given her a reassuring smile, and simply left this woman alone.
She was knee-deep, justified in her anger. And it was never really about us.
You see, the more that I practice that in the world (and I’ve got a long ways to go), the more peaceful I feel.
Because there will always be critics in life. No matter what we do, we will disappoint people. We will break their rules of how we should act, or what we should say. We will trigger their pain. And, sometimes, we will simply be in their already-worked-up way.
Like my daughter happened to be.
And rather than engaging in a counter attack or swapping of defenses, sometimes we’re better off leaving them to their own (inner) business.
And minding our own instead.
Like moving out of the wake of those who spew.