I acted like an asshole. It happens. I took a negative situation and instead of converting into a stronger, better connection with the other person, I lost the moment and I ended up compounding the complexity of the issue with too much thinking. I regret it, but I’m okay with it–if that makes sense.
I have a church near my home that’s used by a few different groups and one rather ironic congregation in particular is pretty famous in the neighbourhood for disrespecting the neighbours (and really, each other too). They’ll park blocking the road, or they’ll block the alley almost every week and they’ve even been so bold as to park on a neighbour’s driveway, trapping him in his garage for two hours. This always feels decided un-Samaritan-like.
This group experienced a lot politeness from the bolder neighbours initially, although the quieter group was calling tow trucks so maybe those two forces cancelled each other out. In the end it’s never really changed. When I got home after running errands the other morning I saw the contractor down the street having to back his trailer all the way down the alley. The more convenient exit that I was coming in through was blocked enough on my side that he wouldn’t fit.
I rolled down my window and spoke to the young couple who was now blocking the other side of the lane too. I politely let them know that a neighbour would surely call the city if they left their vehicle there. The husband indicated he would move it (as many often claim they will and then don’t). And sure enough, when I walked back he hadn’t. Now the fact that I walked back already shows I was lost.
Why did I walk back? Why did I personally feel the need to police the situation? The truth: I hadn’t had enough sleep and I was grumpy. It had nothing to do with these parkers. I was out very late at a friend’s wedding and I was operating on a few hours sleep and it probably didn’t help that I hadn’t had my morning coffee. I’ll usually catch myself being a bit short and I can usually settle myself immediately by just dropping any internal conversation and/or any attachments. Today I chose not to lose the attachment. Today I let the conversation in my head roll.
So I walked back to see if the future I wanted to live in had come true. Remember, I tell you that wanting is an ego-pursuit because it is. My ego wanted that guy to respect that contractor. I used to be a contractor and so I connected him to me, and I imagined him as a decent hard-working guy who was respectful and yet he was being forced to do something difficult for no good reason. Those thoughts added to my negative brain chemistry, which made it more likely that I would convert even more neutral experiences into negative thoughts.
I got attached to them moving the vehicle; I thought I needed it to be happy. And so when I saw their truck unmoved I was actually happy to see the wife returning to get her wallet, which she’d forgotten. I still quite politely told her about the contractor’s trailer and tried to contextualise that it wasn’t a petty request; it really was a big hassle for the guy to have to back out.
I’m not sure, maybe my tone sounded sharp or maybe I had bad body language or maybe she’d been up late at a wedding too and maybe she was just as grumpy as me. She’s entitled. Either way, her reaction to my explanation was, “It’s only for two hours on a Sunday. You must hate God.”
What?!?! My reaction to that statement was far too rapid. My immediate calculation was that she had deflected their personal responsibility onto us, and worse she had justified it by suggesting my very kind and decent neighbours were only asking because we hated God. That lack of personal responsibility and that debasement of God really struck me inside and a feeling came over me that leads to bad news every time.
It’s a little rise. That’s how I feel it. Up until that point I can recoil my thinking quite effectively. After that it races forward and I get a shot of adrenaline and it invariable pushes out words that will be sarcastic and condescending. That kind of arrogance inspires me to want to stab someone with words that will reduce their confidence in that arrogance. And so I said something I deeply regret.
My terrible and intentionally hurtful reaction to “you must hate God” was a lie. I said, “no, my family was just intelligent enough that they didn’t raise me to absolve myself of being an asshole with my car by conveniently believing in an invisible man in the sky.” That statement suggests that I’m against people believing in God or that I don’t believe in what could be called a sense of God when that’s not true. I have no issue with God. But I pretended to so I could stab her with some science. She scowled and was off and I was left with the sort of ugly feeling that really motivates you not to repeat the action that lead to it.
With no positive course of mind to pursue I simply walked away, but as I did I was already well aware that I’d gotten lost in my thoughts. I immediately began to introspect. My ego wanted. It wanted that vehicle moved and it didn’t like someone turning God into a lame excuse for behaviour that defied the story of the Good Samaritan. I acted superior. My response was to really focus on how much I did not like that feeling and I used that to motivate me to learn from the experience.
By the time I’d walked the few hundred feet home I had settled. I went through what happened to look for where my thinking took over. I realised that I should have noticed the first unsettled sense when I was motivated to walk back. From there it was the attachment to the car being moved, and then my thoughts tying this one experience to all of the previous ones–which of course she’s not responsible for. And finally my ego’s distaste for people using a positive symbol to justify negative behaviour did not help. I’m bad with hypocrisy.
I deeply regret what happened but I can’t go back in time so I’ll take it as a lesson. I’m human and I allow for mistakes. But maybe from now on, on the nights where I know I’m going to get very little sleep, I can leave myself a note for when I wake up. Something that reminds me that I might be inclined to be grumpy and to keep an eye out. I think today that would have been enough to do it because when the negative thoughts showed up I could have contextualised them relative to me rather than to her. Lesson learned.
The reason I can’t regret it too much is that this is the yin and yang of life. We need these little moments to remind us where the path is. You can’t have a path without there being not-path. The path I’m usually on feels very warm and pleasant. This did not. It reminds me why I endeavour to stay as mindful as I can each day and so I am grateful for having had the experience.
If the lady I spoke to just happens to be reading this: you have my wholehearted apology. That wasn’t a nice way to speak to you. It’s wonderful you’re enjoying your two hours of holiness. My desire for my neighbour to avoid some unnecessary frustration and the expense of a late-charge on a rental was pointless if I was going to add that negativity to your day. Again, I’m sorry I was unable to be a better person at that time. Thank you.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.