One day last winter I stopped at a drug store. It was early morning.
A lone cashier was working, moving slowly. The man ahead of me was getting increasingly irritated and the line was getting increasingly longer. As tension built, the cashier fumbled more.
When the man got to the cashier, he exploded as she rang in his purchase. The only line I remember, as he walked out, was “I can see why you work such a crap job, you’re barely even qualified for that.”
I was next in line, and the cashier, hurt, and clearly embarrassed by the long line of people watching, leaned on the counter and began to cry. I didn't know what to do. I don’t deal well with much before my first cup of coffee.
She tried to pull herself together and began to ring in my purchases. I, and others, told her to take a moment if she needed to, glaring at the rest of the people in line, daring anyone to argue.
But everyone looked as hurt by it as I felt. One man made roughly ten people feel awful in less than twenty seconds.
She thanked us, telling us that her husband of forty three years had passed away unexpectedly the previous week. The doctors had told them he was improving, there was hope and then he was gone. She had decided to come to work because she couldn’t sit in an empty house any longer, but thought maybe she’d made the wrong decision because she was having trouble focusing.
She got through my purchase, I gave her my condolences and, as I left, others in line were doing the same.
When I got outside, the man was pacing outside his car having a loud conversation on his cell phone. I put my stuff in the back seat and he hung up as I was about to get into the car.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Hey, that lady is in there crying because you acted like an ass. Her husband just passed away. Maybe you should try giving people a break once in a while.”
I was so angry in the moment that I don’t even remember how he responded as I got in my car. But I do remember the pained look on his face. I have no idea if he went back inside or drove away.
After the fact, I felt pretty good about myself. I mean, I stuck up for this poor lady, to the big, bad man who couldn’t be bothered to show some consideration or empathy to another person.
It’s totally OK to be an ass to someone who just acted like an ass, right?
It wasn’t until much later in the year that something I read reminded me of that day. I realized that no matter what I had told myself at the time about how much more “honourable” I was than him, the truth was, I was angry and I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to make him feel the way he made her feel. The way the rest of us in the line felt.
His anger that morning didn’t just impact him. Or her. They impacted everyone around him.
But not once did I question why he was so angry, what kind of day he was having that lead him to treat the cashier like that. Not once did I show him the exact compassion that I expected him to show her.
But that’s what we do when we allow hate, or anger or fear to take over. We generously share it. We hurt people. And when we hurt people, they in turn hurt people, and hurt people hurt more people.
See where I’m going with this?
We’ve all had experiences that demonstrate how quickly our energy spreads. You walk into a meeting in a great mood, and by the time it’s over, you’re drained of all happy thoughts or feelings, even though nothing identifiable as "bad" has happened.
There is that one person that you dread spending time with because by the time it’s over, you feel sad, angry and frustrated.
We also all know that one person that can light up an entire room. You can’t take their eyes off of them. You leave feeling happier and lighter when you’ve been in their presence.
We must treat hate and anger as contagious illnesses, like the flu. They spread quickly and easily between as we interact throughout the day. They cloud our judgment and our compassion and our ability to empathize.
They make us so wrapped up in ourselves that we can't see beyond our own problems. We can't see the impact our words or our actions are having on someone else.
Emotions are healthy when shared respectfully, but that line is often blurred.
In my life, I’ve seen hate that has knocked the breath out of me at times. The irony of attacking someone, for attacking someone, for attacking someone, is lost on many.
I can’t say it enough, and I can't say it any clearer than this:
It does not matter how small or great of a crime is committed through hate or anger, if you respond in kind, you are no better than the person you are raging against. Hate will never, ever, put an end to hate.
What does stop hate in its tracks? Love. Compassion. Empathy. A sense of humor. Light heartedness.
Hate and anger cannot live in an environment filled with love. It’s impossible. IMPOSSIBLE.
Spend time doing something that lifts you up. Imagine someone you truly love in the face of everyone you don’t know. Would you be more patient and kind with them? Imagine all the times you screwed up, all the mistakes you’ve made, and were forgiven.
I truly believe that if every single one of us spent more time working on the energy that we give off, dealing with our own shit, developing empathy, teaching empathy to our children, taking responsibility for our lives, leading by example, the world we live in would begin to heal.
People are inherently good. Bad deeds are rarely isolated incidents. It is a culmination of life experiences, and what we are taught, that determines what road someone will go down.
And all of us are responsible for what that road is paved with. Every last one of us.
Maybe you’re so angry that you just want others around you to hurt, so for now, that’s fair. That’s where you are. You can’t see past it right now.
Maybe you're mostly friendly and kind but, like anyone, you can be driven to anger and hate. You’re working on it.
Maybe you are always kind. There are people out there who just are.