Yesterday, during a perfectly innocent trip to the mall, I learned a valuable lesson. That lesson? When we close our minds off to truths outside our own, we are really limiting our ability to be happy. I learned this lesson during an annoying interaction with a stranger. That stranger taught me that for some people being right is more important than being kind; that affirmation is sometimes more important than compromise; and that no matter how wrong they are, some people just can’t abandon a position once they’ve taken it. The most important lesson I learned, however, was that I don’t want to be that kind of person.
On my drive home from work I decided to quickly stop at a local department store for a new pop of spring color. I actually managed to get out of work on time (a rarity), traffic was light (almost unheard of), and the very first parking spot was open and waiting for me (when does THAT happen?). I parked the car and soon remembered that I had coupons in a bag tucked neatly behind the driver’s seat. Bonus!
When I got out of the car, I noticed a woman in the car parked next to me was still positioned behind the driver’s wheel. She had a cell phone in her hands and was texting someone. I could hear her radio but the car was turned off and I assumed she, too, was making an after-work stop for something new. Good for her! Good for us!
While I am always careful not to bump my open car door, I paid extra close attention to the car still occupied next to me. I opened the back door and swung it carefully open. Then I retrieved my bag and began my coupon hunting. Soon, the woman from the adjacent car was standing next to me. I assumed she, too, needed something out of her back seat.
“You bumped my car with your door,” she said. I turned and looked at my door and then at her. There were inches in between my space and hers.
“I don’t think I did,” I replied.
“You did,” she insisted. “Look, there’s a mark.”
There was, indeed, a mark on her car. It was a small white smudge, about the size of a sesame seed.
“But my car door doesn’t extend that far,” I told her. “And my car isn’t white.”
She continued to insist that I bumped her car. I licked my finger and rubbed the mark. It came off the car. “Look,” I said. “Whatever this is wipes off.”
“But you hit my car,” she insisted again.
I looked squarely at the woman and relaxed my body language. “I don’t think I did,” I told her. “I’m not the kind of person who would intentionally do something like that and if I believed I did, I would apologize,” I said. “I’m not that kind of person.”
“Oh,” she said sarcastically, “you must be the only person in the world who’s not ‘that kind of person’,” she said smirking.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I replied. My voice was calm and low. “Please leave me alone.”
Obviously annoyed at my disinterest in arguing with her, the woman took five steps back and stood behind my car, arms crossed. Uh-oh. That’s not a good body language sign. I turned away from her to zip up my still open bag. From around the corner of my car, she continued, “Someone obviously had a bad day.”
Damn you, stranger lady. I was having a good day – even maybe a great one. “Actually,” I replied, “I was having a great day until you decided to be a bitch.”
Ok. Maybe that was my mistake. But everyone has their limits. And my response did the trick. She moved away from my car and stood on the sidewalk outside the store, now talking on her phone. Perhaps she was afraid I would now intentionally mark her car. Maybe she was planning on marking mine. I don’t know. But I did know that I no longer felt like shopping (plus I couldn’t find the coupons I knew I had).
As I put the key back into my ignition, I looked again at the woman. This was all so silly. Deciding that it wasn’t worth the bad feelings between us, I pulled up at the curb where she was standing. She didn’t hang up her phone, but I began talking. “Listen” I said, “I know you think I hit your car. And I honestly don’t believe I did. But it’s not worth arguing about. I’m sorry our interaction was so unpleasant.”
She snickered at me and replied, “Like I said, you’re obviously having a bad day. So, ok.”
I drove home, stewing about that woman the whole way. I am obviously still thinking about her. But it’s not about the cars or the smudge which is no longer there. It’s more about her inability to accept a truth outside of her own. It’s about the way she judged me and about her insistence on being right. So much negative energy generated over a tiny little smudge. What other little smudges are blocking us from enjoying healthy relationships? How do we let the need to be right get in the way of being kind? And how might we simply wipe away those smudges with minds that are open and attitudes of respect?