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My daughter and two married friends came over last night for dinner. They are our friends, too, if a generation younger. I had worked throughout the day to make dinner and dessert — the young woman can eat no gluten or dairy and she becomes instantly sick if she does — and it lasts a while. So there was some pressure, but in the end pleasure at the meal and their company.

Since we all live in the D.C. metropolitan area, they discussed the problems of commuting. My daughter always drives to work and it’s a tedious, anger-inducing ride.

“How can you deal with the dipsh**s and aggressive drivers out there every day and retain your sanity?” One suggestion was to be generous, to turn every slight and near miss into a story. “Oh, that person has just learned his son has been rushed to the hospital and is hurrying to his bedside.” or “The woman is angry because her husband has just filed for divorce to marry a younger woman.”

Then there are the sour faces on the Metro. People waiting impatiently for the train, which in our case has become an often long wait because of its endemic problems. No one smiles, looks at you, cares. I’ve learned through many years, and a couple of careers, that people are far different then they seem. Each has hidden fears, problems, issues — or maybe they just missed their coffee that morning. You can never assume that they are the way they look. It’s self-protection. It’s seeking safety in an uncertain world. Sometimes it’s worry, sadness, an argument unfinished; you can never tell. But you can be generous in your judgment of them.

Anger is never the answer because it is self-destructive. It is always a choice, too. You can react in anger, or you can choose not to. That doesn’t mean what someone said or did wasn’t hurtful, but where did it come from? Why were they mean, rude, or unpleasant? What’s is happening (or has happened) in their lives to make them that way? Generosity of spirit will lead to more constructive thoughts and resolutions. It will hurt less, too. As Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

This is not a “sit back and take it” response. This is a choice to save yourself. Being direct is hot the same as being mean. Hear with others say, check it out to see if there’s anything worth listening to, file it away, and move on. “Thank you for your input.”

As a teacher, I sometimes had children who were impatient, rude, unpleasant, and so often those behaviors came from something that was happening at home. Getting upset with them was unproductive. They’re used to it, perhaps used to being yelled at, belittled, ignored — so a response to them that shows empathy will be a surprise and may yield more positive results — and actually make them feel better and more valued as a person, too.

“Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.” Rebecca Solnit Author, activist, and lots of good insight!

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