As I walked through a parking garage the other day, a very surprising thing happened. This garage isn’t well designed – there is barely enough space for cars to drive in and out and some of the parking spots are pretty tight. The driver of a small SUV decided to pull into one of these tiny spots, and as she inched forward into the space, there was a loud, crunching sound. She had scraped the car next to her.
She backed up and got out of her car. As she stood looking at the damage, the driver of the car she had hit came out as well. “I’m so sorry,” she said sadly. I anticipated that the other driver would display some anger and frustration. After all, he would now have to get at least two estimates for the repair, be without his car while it was fixed, and possibly pay the amount of his deductible. Most people would be angry. Instead, the two talked quietly and then began to laugh.
Although I wasn’t privy to their conversation, it was possible they realized that they were in this unpleasant and unwelcome experience together. Maybe they were also relieved that no one was hurt. It was obvious that she was sad and regretful. The other driver showed compassion for her.
When we are pitted against another person, compassion can be difficult to feel. We want to be the one who is right! It can be frightening to allow ourselves to truly understand the other person’s situation. As Pema Chodron tells us in Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, compassion is threatening to our ego. When we really open up to another person’s view, we might find out we are wrong. Although he certainly had no part in the accident, the other driver couldn’t be angry once he opened his heart to compassion.
When we see situations and people through this lens, it is certainly kinder to them than blaming or criticizing. What might be surprising is that it is kinder to ourselves as well. When we are angry, our fight or flight response is activated, our ability to think rationally and solve the problem is compromised and we suffer many detrimental physiologic effects. In addition, when we verbally attack the other person, we deprive ourselves of a partner in helping to fix the situation. Compassion dissolves this anger and negativity and can give us a sense of connection and hopefulness.
Is there a situation in which you feel wronged? Try opening your heart and allowing a sense of compassion in. Just for a moment, see things from the other person’s point of view. How does this shift your relationship with this person? What possibilities might it create? Notice how much more peaceful you feel without the anger and resentment.
We each have the power to choose compassion when conflicts arise. We simply need to decide how we want to live.