Life loves to test us with different challenges, doesn’t it? It happens every day. Sometimes we roll with it and don’t even notice, and other times it really throws us for a loop.
Recently I got caught up in one of life’s little tests. A few weeks ago, I was at a stop sign turning left. The driver behind me felt entitled to ram past me because he was turning right. There was not room, so he deliberately sideswiped the right rear of my car. Then, as he passed, he had the audacity to give me the stink-eye, as if I had done something wrong. Then he drove off! Yup. I was involved in a hit and run “accident.” Luckily, the kind woman behind me helped out and offered to be a witness. Ultimately, the guy denied his crime, and since I was unable to identify him, they would not ticket him. They said there was not enough evidence of damage on his car. It didn’t matter that I had his white Mercedes paint all over my car. It didn’t matter that I had an impartial witness. It didn’t matter that it all hinged on my ability to identify a man in a photo line up whom I briefly saw in another car under extreme shock two weeks earlier.
What mattered was that he lied, and since I could not identify his face, the criminal won.
This all reached its conclusion yesterday. I was annoyed and pissed. I lost faith in the justice system. Essentially, the criminal had more protection than the victim. It didn’t, and frankly still doesn’t, seem fair. Even though my pain and consequences were negligible, I still wanted justice. I wanted this jerk to be held accountable for his shady actions.
At that point, I had to decide how to move forward. I rationalized all the reasons I should let it go, sympathizing with people who have suffered far greater injustices and consequences in their lives. Injustices happen all the time, so I told myself that I was not special. My logic didn’t give me instantaneous relief, so instead I contemplated revenge. Maybe I should put a hex on him, I thought; or maybe find out his name to post it here for the world to see the truth. Surely that would make me feel better.
In the end I decided against revenge. I decided so because I would rather be in control of my life instead of having it control me. I’d rather be happy instead of right. I’d rather let it go and feel free.
But that’s hard. I was still pissed.
I shared this story with a friend last night hoping for some perspective. While she agreed and empathized with me, I could see how her detachment allowed her to have a healthy perspective. It was easy for her to see how little any of it mattered, even if justice seemed so important to me. It was easy for her to see that there was no benefit to holding on to it. It was easy for her to see that after tonight this was not going to affect my life unless I allowed it to. It was easy for her to suggest I simply let it go. Really, why waste the energy? True.
This felt like the key, but I still resisted letting it all go.
As I continued navigating through this challenge, today the light bulb went off. I connected my friend’s advice with a conversation I recently had with a client. My client was really angry at herself for some things she did over the past few weeks that sabotaged her goals. I asked her,
What would you say to your friend if she did what you did? How would you treat her?
When no other reasoning worked, that questioning alone changed everything for her. So I decided to try it for myself. I pretended I was my friend. I listened to myself tell the story to me as if I were in no way involved. Immediately I felt myself becoming more detached from the problem, almost laughing, and my frustration and anger vanished. I was truly able to see how unimportant my plight was, and I let it go.
We can’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond. The magic is in the power of choice.
The next time your patient unjustifiably blames you for “ruining” their tooth, you feel like your assistant or boss has let you down once again, or maybe you let someone else down; try it. Tell the story to yourself as if you are hearing it from your friend. Imagine how you would respond and what you would tell your friend. Then say it to yourself. Take the charge away by actually being the friend to yourself. You may find you’ll be able to see the situation more objectively and have the power choose how you want to respond.
What is one thing you are holding on to simply because you feel like it? How would it look if you could just move on?