Assume Better

A Selfish Reason for Choosing Compassion

I was driving to work the other day, in typical morning rush hour traffic, and another driver was being far too fast and aggressive: weaving through traffic, riding bumpers, cutting people off. When they cut in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes which almost caused me to be rear-ended, I got mad. This driver was being a jerk: selfish, road hog, inconsiderate, dangerous. Why do they think they have more right to the road than any of the rest of us?

This morning, the same thing: overly aggressive driver, going too fast, riding bumpers, cutting people off. But this time, I saw the look on the driver’s face as they passed me:

Weeping. Sadness. Panic.

They were clearly in the midst of some kind of emergency. This person had a reason they needed to get somewhere quickly. They weren’t just being selfish and inconsiderate. Their need for the road actually was more important than mine.

This doesn’t excuse the dangerous driving: that was still a problem for the rest of us. But instead of getting angry, I felt empathy. I had compassion for this driver. I wondered what they faced and hoped they could get where they needed to be on time, without causing an accident.

In my first example, when I got angry at the other driver, it left me in a bad mood. My hackles rose, I was geared up for conflict with no way to resolve it. I got to work feeling on edge, in a negative headspace. This was not a useful way for me to start my day. It didn’t help me do my work.

This morning, when I felt compassion and sympathy for the other driver, it left me in a much better headspace. Compassion is a far more useful emotion to bring into the public service work I do.

The reality is neither driver will ever know how I reacted to them, nor how my reactions affected my mood. My reactions have no impact on them whatsoever. But the ways I react in these circumstances has a profound effect on me. When I assumed the other driver was selfish and inconsiderate, it affected me in a very negative way. When I assumed more positively about the other driver, it made my day better.

This got me thinking about how we make assumptions.

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