I was driving along Route 1, a busy four lane highway near Philadelphia a year ago,when I noticed in my rear view mirror a car several lengths behind -- weaving in and out of traffic. It was coming up very fast behind me. As I clicked my blinker to move into the passing lane this car shot past me, ignoring my signal and narrowly avoiding a collision. Only quick reflexes prevented what would have been a serious accident. With mounting anger I watched as the car wove in and out of traffic. I was furious and conjured up in my mind the kind of person who would drive like that. By the time I pulled up to the stop light -- in my mind -- the driver had become an irresponsible,dangerous and even criminal type.
As I came to a stop I noticed the car next to me was the 'criminal' car waiting impatiently for the light to change. Now was the time to give this guy a piece of my mind. I rolled down the window and looked across at the driver. He was smiling broadly and waving at me. I was stunned -- it was an old and dear friend I had not seen in some time. Instantly all anger, blame and recrimination disappeared, replaced by a genuine delight and pleasure of seeing him.
After a few minutes I became fascinated by what had taken place, particularly by the workings of my mind. I had completely judged a person on a few random actions I had perceived over a period of perhaps 90 seconds. My friend I knew to be a responsible and good man, yet I had relegated him to an evil being in a matter of seconds. A few months later I did see him at a party and we discussed our chance meeting on the highway, and he apologized telling me he was very late to pick up a friend who was arriving at the Phila. International Airport. I began to question how often had I unknowingly judged a person this way during my lifetime -- how often had I rushed to a conclusion based on a few actions without inquiring about the causes of the actions and without giving the person the benefit of the doubt that he/she might possibly be a very good person inside. A sage* once wrote:
There is always some reason why a man has committed a fault.Whatever a man does, it is lack of wisdom that prompts him to do it. What he does through ignorance should not be considered as enmity by us. If he had wisdom he would not have done it. If someone who has wisdom and faith in God is hurt by an ignorant man, he should not keep the hurt within him. He must throw it out immediately and forget it. One who can make the hurt disappear is a wise man, but one who keeps it within him is as ignorant as the person who committed the fault.
So what I gleaned from my day on the highway was to try to stay in the center, that quiet place where I do not react and criticize another's behavior. When I can do this my life is peaceful. Also I increasingly see that we often get what we need, not what we want, and receiving something irritating or difficult is often a gift to drive us inward to a better and more peaceful state. In this state we don't hang on to hurt or anger and so we avoid the 'dark' side of depression and anxiety.
My wife once asked a very wise and loving woman what Love was. She thought a minute and replied,"Love is giving to another and not expecting anything in return."So as we proceed along in our lives, avoiding the dark areas of negative thoughts and actions. I find the poem** below a great help trying to do this.
People are often unreasonable,
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you
Of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some
False friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank,
People may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building,
Someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness,
They may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today,
People will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
And it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see in the final analysis,
It is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.