I have a born-in-me leaning towards feeling “righteous” indignation. I naturally perceive that when things aren’t going my way, it’s because someone (typically the nice cashier behind the register) has it out for me. It’s never my fault, basically — and so it’s totally acceptable for me to speak rudely to get my point across. Delivering rude zingers (and boy, can I come up with some good ones) is like a drug. It feels so justified and is a huge shot of adrenaline.
I’ve worked incredibly hard to purge this from my system, and I’m actually pretty chill now when it comes to situations where I’m not getting my way, thankyouverymuch. I’ve learned that if a store clerk is mistreating me, I can change things with a friendly smile.
I haven’t been knowingly rude to anyone (except my poor husband — bless his poor heart) for years. It feels quite good. I dare say, the rush from changing a rude person into a nice person is even better than the high I used to get from blasting someone with a barrage of well-crafted sarcasm.
The other day, however, old habits resurfaced when I saw a man sitting outside the doors to the mall smoking a cigarette. He was (quite stupidly) sitting directly underneath the sign that says smokers cannot smoke within 25 feet of the entrance.
Smokers who smoke near public buildings is my Achilles’ heel in my heavy armor of attempted niceness. And for some reason, there are an awful lot of smokers in Utah who smoke near public buildings. I have neighbors who go out of their way to smoke far away from my family, and I appreciate their thoughtfulness more than they know. Smokers who don’t extend that same courtesy make my blood boil. Everyone knows second-hand smoke is dangerous, and I think it is the height of rudeness when someone subjects everyone to their own poisonous fumes by smoking where the public walks.
So when I saw this man sitting inches outside the door, I had to say something.
“You know, it’s illegal to smoke within 25 feet of an entrance.” I began, using my rudest voice. It hadn’t been used in a while, and man — it felt good.
He shrugged, possibly out of shame — but I took it to be out of a heavy dose of I-don’t-care.
“The sign is right here,” I continued, angrily smacking the sign. My heart was racing with the adrenaline of a rude encounter.
Again, nothing from the smoking man. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
The drug of “righteous” indignation was flowing through my blood and it felt amazing. Sarcasm was coming. I could feel it.
“Thank you for poisoning my children’s lungs.” Zing! I stomped into the mall and searched for a security guard. By the time I found one, the man was gone. Still high from my encounter, I was heartily disappointed that the incident would end so un-dramatically.
As I walked through the mall, searching for the perfect boots for my daughter, I felt the drug leave my system. I felt low and ashamed. Yes, he was wrong to smoke outside the entrance, and yes, I was right to speak up for myself and my children — but I could have been kind. The man could have left the situation with a resolve to be more careful about smoking in public instead of thinking what a witch he had just met.
When I told my husband about my encounter, he laughed a loud guffaw at my “punch line.” He thought I was hilarious. And with his hearty encouragement, I admitted that I also thought I was quite hilarious. His acceptance did nothing for my addict brain, and only left me feeling the old “righteous” indignation I’ve worked so hard to stop feeling.
The test came today when I went to Costco — less than a week before Thanksgiving, mind you. As giant cart after giant cart wedged itself between my giant cart and each and every tasting table, and as oblivious person after oblivious person stopped in the middle of the aisle for apparently no reason, I calmly and simply just dealt with it.
But when the lady in the giant SUV in the parking lot only looked one way before turning to drive almost right into me, I gave her a nasty look.
Baby steps, I guess.