The Stress of the Moment

I am usually a diplomatic person who tries to treat everyone with respect.  But I am sure there is at least one person who doesn’t see me that way today.

The morning routine here is good, but gets stressful towards the end.    Check the backpacks, get the boys to brush their teeth and comb their hair, and then load the car.  Then I have to get them to turn off the TV, get their shoes on and finally make it to the car.   They sometimes fight, forget things at the last minute, and some days like today we get a bit late start.

The ten minute drive into school was good though.  Dana (6) was singing as loud as he could to Dennis DeYoung’s “100 Years from Now,” while Ryan (9) explained his theories on Nerf guns.   I get to the Mallett school (K-3) and survey the scene.   Many parents pull over and park and walk their kids to the door.   Needing to get Ryan to Cascade Brook (4-6) school down the road, I look to see where I can pull over for a quick drop off.   I pass the cars on the side, watch for any blinking lights saying someone is pulling out, and then pull over.

Dana knows the routine.  He grabs his backpack, I get out and give him a quick hug.   The time the car stops to when I pull out is thirty seconds at most.   Only this time as I’m about to say good bye a young blonde woman comes up to me.

The scene. Cars pull up to the side, it’s very efficient, especially compared to Cascade Brook’s drop off/pick up

“I know you’re in a hurry,” she says politely, “but you’ve cut me off the last three days.”

I’m dumbfounded.  No way.   No way did I cut someone off today, or the last three days.   She’s wrong.   I say “Oh, OK,” and then turn to say goodbye to an amused Dana who runs off to school.

“I know you’re in a hurry, I just wanted to tell you…” she repeats.  I mutter an OK, look at my watch, see I’ve got less than five minutes before Ryan is tardy.  So I don’t look back and get in my car and drive away, feeling unfairly accused.

Of course, I realize as I drive to the second school that I handled it all wrong.  I should have smiled and said, “if I’m cutting you off I apologize, I really am careful to try to watch for other cars, but I’ll pay more attention.”    Seven seconds.  A friendly response to a polite complaint.  She’d have been happy, I’d have been proud of myself and no worries.

Instead, I spent some time indignant.  What?   Cut her off?  I don’t think so!   I watch carefully.   Perhaps she’s one of those who gets confused and stops and doesn’t do anything for awhile.  Of course I’d pass her if that’s what she does.   No way.   I’m a very good driver.   I take safety in front of the school seriously!

Then as I realized that I was letting my mood go to a dark place I suddenly knew I’d let stress cause me to to switch focus from the situation – the relation between me and a stranger – to myself alone.   I was being criticized in a stressful moment in front of my kids for something I didn’t think I did.   How dare she!

Of course, that’s a me-focus.   That happens in times of stress.   It’s wrong.   It’s defining a situation egotistically, as if the only person that mattered was me.   Instead I should have thought, “I really don’t think I did that, but she obviously does, she took the courage to come to me and talk politely, and I should respect that.   I can err, maybe I did drive in a way that could be seen as ‘cutting her off.'”

But, of course, the insight comes too late.   I acted like a hurried jerk, and she probably has a very negative opinion of me.

My take aways:  1) I have to remember this when others act rudely or brusquely to me.   Nine times out of ten people who behave as jerks are really decent people caught up in the stress of the moment, egotistically reading a situation as being “all about me” rather than relational.   I just got a reminder of how easy it was to fall into that trap, I have to show understanding when others do the same; and 2) I have to keep working on my own behavior.

I think most of my friends would have been surprised that I didn’t respond nicely to the lady – they’d say, “wow, that’s not the Scott I know.”   Yet while I may act that way a lot less than I did when I was younger, it still comes out.   I have to catch myself earlier, pull myself back and say “think of the other person and the situation, not just your own emotions.”

And I have motivation.   I was bothered by my moment of weakness all day, feeling regretful about being rude — not mean, I didn’t really say anything to her, I just brushed her off — and wishing I could replay that scene with behavior I could respect.

But hey – I can blog about it.   Who knows, maybe she’ll stumble on this blog.   Or, for those of who are reading this, keep in mind the next time someone responds rudely that it doesn’t mean he or she is a bad person.   Sometimes the stress of the moment brings out weakness.

  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on September 26, 2012 - 20:46

    I had a similar experience recently where I was pulling into a Papa Murphy’s Pizza parking lot from one direction while a smaller dark car was pulling in from the opposite direction The problem is I never saw him because before he actually enters the parking area I have already turned my attention to the area I am going to park and am watching a mother and her kids cross in front of me.

    After they pass I park and get out of my car. As I am walking around heading for the pizza store, this man in the dark car drives slowly past me and stares hard at me. I haven’t got a clue why because I had never seen him before. I’m thinking, “What’s with this guy?”

    He kept staring at me hard so I bent down at eye level on the passenger side to stare back at him to see if it was someone I didn’t recognize at first. Once I determined it wasn’t I simply smiled at him, waved and headed on into Papa Murphy’s. There’s no one there so I go straight to the counter and order my pizza. When I’m through this guy is in line behind me so I ask him,

    “Do I know You”?

    “No”, he says.

    “Well I asked because you were staring at me in the parking lot as if you did” I say

    He then tells me that I cut him off pulling into the parking lot.

    I did?

    Yes, he says

    I thought to myself “How could I have have missed that?” But I recalled he was right there as I got out of my car. Was my peripheral vision so bad that I didn’t even see him as I was looking at the mom and her kids crossing the parking lot?

    As I reflected on this I told him, “you know, I never even saw you so I am so sorry. I’m glad you were paying better attention than I was”.

    That seemed to iron things out and we each gave the other a friendly smile as I left the store with my pizza.

  2. #2 by Sean Patrick Hazlett on September 26, 2012 - 21:26


    I find myself in that woman’s position once or twice a week, though my reaction isn’t quite as polite.

    Having been raised on the East Coast, I’ve found that many folks in the Bay Area tend to be more passive aggressive and, therefore, tend to avoid confrontation at all costs. As such, some people on BART take advantage of this situation by waltzing to the front of the line when a train arrives. The only person who ever calls them out is…well…me.

    I tend to say very loudly: “Excuse me, there’s a line here.” Then I glare at them, because…well…their selfish behavior deserves worse.

    Just my two cents…

  3. #3 by elizjamison on September 26, 2012 - 21:32

    I was so stressed this morning, and so when I asked a student what the thesis of a piece was and he gave his opinion, I said, rather loudly and in a frustrated voice, “NO!”

    I am never that teacher who plays God and has to have the answer all the time, but today I bit this poor kid’s head off because he didn’t come up with the answer I agreed with. I realized then that I need a mental break. I apologized to the student, told the kids I was little stressed, and took a few minutes to catch my breath.

    Anyway, you are so right. Stress really does affect everything we do, and the way we feel, too.


  4. #4 by thenewamericanlondoner on September 26, 2012 - 21:38

    Wise words, Scott.

  5. #5 by thenewamericanlondoner on September 26, 2012 - 21:39

    I like the notion of takeaways as ideas as opposed to greasy styrofoam containers of burgers and fries.

  6. #6 by bravesmartbold on September 27, 2012 - 01:49

    I’ll remember this when I’m screamed at and cut off in Miami traffic. I can’t seem to drive here without stress. As for your reaction, you are a gentlemen either way.

  7. #7 by Snoring Dog Studio on September 27, 2012 - 12:49

    Good words. Don’t beat yourself up too much. You had a learning experience and I bet the next time you will respond differently. I try very hard to not react when someone vents their irritation towards me – but we all can be caught in a weak moment.

  8. #8 by Mad Queen Linda on September 27, 2012 - 17:50

    Look for her next time you’re there. If the cutoff happened three days in a row, she’s probably a regular, like you. I bet you can have a nice little chat & a smile with her, and both of you will feel on top of the world.

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