I WON the Non-Fiction Category of the 100 Prompts Contest over at The Writing Reader! Woot!
Here is the winning submission:
When I was younger, I was annoyed all the time at someone. Anyone. Everyone. Someone cut me off in traffic? What a jerk. Someone cut in front of me in line at the grocery store? I guess they think their time is more important than mine. Someone made a snarky comment? I didn’t do anything to deserve that kind of treatment! As for the people in my life who I actually knew: my mother, my husband, my sister, my father, co-workers, customers, especially my mother-in-law, they all were subject to my wrath, usually of the passive-aggressive variety.
Psychologists call this the Fundamental Attribution Error. Basically, it means that if someone does something hurtful or inconsiderate to us, we assume it’s because he is a bad person. We take one example of a person’s behavior and use it to judge his entire character. So, if someone bumps into us on the sidewalk, we automatically assume that she is an inattentive, careless clod. If someone takes our parking spot at the mall, we think he is a selfish, inconsiderate narcissist.
When I became a mother, all that changed. I’d like to be able to say that I had become a more understanding person as a result of my entry into parenthood, or that my priorities had changed now that I had this new person in my life. The truth is much less romantic. Being angry takes a lot of energy, and I didn’t have any to spare. I wasn’t sleeping, I was barely eating, and I was in perpetual motion trying to bounce, rock, and stroll my screaming daughter into dozing for more than four minutes and twenty-seven seconds at a time. I no longer had it in me to complain about something someone had said or done.
I guess in a way, my priorities had changed. It no longer mattered to me what people said or thought, because in the face of extreme sleep deprivation the likes of which are usually seen only at Gitmo, things that once had held the utmost importance for me no longer seemed very significant. It took way less effort to just pick up the socks off the floor than to be upset that even after twelve years together, my husband still hadn’t gotten the hang of the hamper thing. If I got a nasty email or phone call from a customer at work, I would just fire off a matter-of-fact, solution-oriented reply and move on instead of spending hours, days even, obsessing about how selfish and rude she was.
As I stopped getting wrapped up in the drama of it all, I stopped taking people’s behavior so personally. I began to realize that other people’s actions really were about them, and rarely had anything to do with me. The person who cut me off in traffic probably was late picking up his son from soccer practice. The person who stepped in front of me in the checkout line at the supermarket probably didn’t see me there. The person who said that hurtful thing was probably having a bad day.
I also started to see how my own behavior could sometimes be interpreted as being impolite or selfish. After all, sometimes I do things that are inconsiderate or careless, and I’m not a narcissist or a clod. At least I don’t think I am. I’m simply…imperfect. Just like everyone else.
I learned that we often choose to be angry and judgmental, and we can just as easily choose to be big-hearted instead. So instead of being angry, I started being compassionate. Instead of giving the finger, I gave an understanding smile. Instead of wanting revenge, I wanted to lessen the load for others. I became more patient, more understanding, and happier. I have found that a much easier and infinitely more pleasant way to live.