I was waiting for my take-out order to be ready. The restaurant was packed, and the kitchen staff was working hard to keep up. The worker called out again, “number 28!” An agitated young man behind her piped up, “I’m number 28! I told you I’m number 28!” The lady apologized, gave him the food, and went to get him some hot sauce. The young man stood there angrily shaking his head as if he had just been hit with the world’s most offensive insult. As I watched the drama unfold, I came back to a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately, “How did we all get so close to the edge?”
It seems like everywhere you go there are people on the edge of exploding. Our anger erupts at seemingly small things. The line is moving too slowly at the grocery store. Someone misunderstands something you’ve said. The third traffic light in a row turns red when you are already ten minutes late. I’m not throwing stones. I get angry at inconsequential things too. What I want to know is how did we get here, and how can step back from the emotional edge many of us seem to live on.
Here are a couple of thoughts about why many of us live so close to the edge:
We’ve lost our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
What would it be like to be cooking as fast as you can with 20 hungry people staring at you, waiting for their hibachi chicken? What does it feel like when you’ve already been working for seven hours at the cash register? Those are good thoughts and most likely result in greater patience. Our thoughts more often look like: “How could she be so slow? Do they not care that I have somewhere to be?” Those thoughts lead to something else.
In those moments when we are about to lose it we can also consider the following question, “Could there be other things going on that I’m not seeing?” I’m guessing it would be hard to be efficient at your checkout line if you just found that your mom has cancer, of if you don’t know how you are going to find a babysitter tomorrow so you can come to work. You never know who might need a bit a patience from you, or how healing a kind work could be.
We fail to vent.
Life can be frustrating. There are demands at work and home. Money is tight, and Ben Affleck keeps getting roles in movies, no matter how many he has ruined along the way. The frustration inside of you needs to go somewhere. The simple truth is if you don’t vent on your terms at times that work for you, your frustration will boil over at less optimal times and normally in destructive ways.
Find a way to blow off some steam. Talk it out with somebody. Scream and kick if you have to, just make sure no one is around to bear the brunt of it. Releasing some of that pent up energy and frustration gives us a greater margin to handle the challenges that tomorrow will bring.
We’ve grown used to getting what we want.
We live in a pretty great world. We can get food without ever leaving our cars. If that takes too long, we have microwaves that heat up things in seconds. We can buy and be reading a new book in less than a minute. Groceries can be delivered to our door in a couple of hours without us ever leaving the couch. We have grown used to getting what we want, when we want it. Rather than being grateful for this convenience, we have come to see it as one of the self-evident rights our founding fathers mentioned when America was founded. So, when we can’t get what we want, we lose our cool.
We all need to remind ourselves from time to time, that there are things that are more important than what I want. Life is not just about getting, sometimes it’s about giving. We all need to practice giving patience, a kind smile, and an encouraging word. It’ll make life better for everyone!