As a last homage to my service industry job – I start my new job Monday – I want to talk about something that is present everyday in almost every restaurant across the board: anger.
Let me tell you, there are some shit people in the world. And they all like to go out to eat.
But that’s not what this post is about. (You can check out Bitter Barista if that’s what you’re into.)
What I do want to discuss is managing our reaction to upsetting situations. Anger shows up all the time in a restaurant. A customer stiffs you. Your coworker never buses his tables. Your boss micromanages you. You get a ticket while working, making your lunch shift moot.
But the service industry isn’t the only place these scenarios pop up. Every single day we bump into people (or live or work or partner with people) who are taxing. I am a firm believer that people grate on one another. That’s our most fundamental state: irritating each other. Anyone who has ever been in a long-term friendship or partnership knows how hard it is to align two lives. But fighting all the time is who we are as children. As we grow up, we begin to have more nuanced and understanding relationships with the people who come into our lives.
Unfortunately, most people never grow up and continue through adulthood barreling through their days blowing up at people and being disappointed left and right.
We often hear generic advice such as, “Be compassionate. Try to understand where they are coming from. I bet all of the stresses of their life have added up to them being rude in this moment.”
But that is NOT what I’m going to say to you. I could never get that logic to work for me. My rational self would just respond, “Well, sure, they’ve had a bad week. BUT SO HAVE I. You don’t see me running around yelling or being passive aggressive!”
Today I am going to suggest another tactic, i.e. responding to anger selfishly.
Selfishly? What? How is that going to get anyone anywhere? Wasn’t that the problem in the first place?
Let me explain: By “selfishly” I mean the way that most cares for oneself. Note that I said cares. Not relieves. Not satisfies. But cares. The distinction here hinges on what it means to care for oneself.
If we allow ourselves to be caught up in petty interactions by responding to anger with anger, we are ultimately getting ourselves riled up and not caring for or protecting ourselves.
Think back to the last time someone did something that really triggered you. (I can think of something from today!) How long did you stew over that moment? Think about what you should have said? What you’d say if they came at you again? “If they do that one more time…”
I bet you put a ton of emotional energy into that encounter. You may still get riled up just thinking back on it.
What if you could take all of the time and effort you spend hating/plotting/stewing and put it into the creative outlet of your choice?
We talk all the time about how exhausted we are. “Man, I’m tired” is something I hear about twenty times a day from everyone in my life. However, our exhaustion is rarely from a lack of sleep, but most often from how we spend our down time and how we spend the energy we do have.
Getting angry is a useless way to spend your energy. It tires you out, changes no one’s behavior, and leaves the world a slightly tenser place.
It’s the same as kicking a tree when an acorn hits you on the head. The tree doesn’t give a fuck and now your foot hurts.
Next time a situation arises that ticks you off, tell yourself, “The most efficient way for me to take care of myself is to watch this pass by me.”
Somehow, the subtle switch between focusing on understanding another person to focusing on what is going to energize you (letting anger go) is a revolutionary idea.
You can absolutely be compassionate where possible. But if an upsetting encounter comes along that you just can’t shake, start by saying, “Today I choose to take care of myself.”
And remember the acorn.