Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Choose Anger or Kindness?

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Why is everyone so angry? I've thought this so much these past few weeks. Every time I turn on the news or any tv show for that matter, I see anger and blame and rage. I see it on the road, in my short five mile commute to work. I read about it online. Last week, I experienced it first hand. 

I'd been away for six days and I was on my way to pick up Bella, my dog, from the kennel. I was so excited to bring her home! On my drive there, the kennel is only about three miles away from home, I called a friend. It was a quick conversation. We were discussing upcoming plans and catching up on the last few days. 

 During the drive, I noticed that a white SUV behind me was way too close. I tapped on my breaks. She moved back for a moment and then she was immediately back on my tail. This time I stepped on the brakes for a bit longer. Didn't work. She remained way too close, in my opinion, so I kept a close eye on her. 

The final mile to the kennel is where this occurred. This final mile occurs on side roads where the speed limit is between 25-30 mph. As I get closer to the kennel, I realize that she's probably going to the same place I am, "Awkward!" I think.  I park at the kennel, end the conversation with my friend, and gather my things together to get Bella. 

Suddenly, I hear a knock on my window. It's the driver from the other car. Stunned, I open the door and immediately hear yelling. The driver who had been driving on my tail for the past mile is yelling at me. The first thing I hear is this, "You had no idea I was behind you!" 
I shook my head and said, "No, ma'am. I saw you. You were driving too close to me." 
She continued to yell over me, "You were on your phone and you had no idea I was there. I'm in a hurry..." 
I know the yelling continued, but I don't remember the words. I admit I didn't stand there quietly, but I didn't yell. After a few more minutes, I calmly replied, "Ma'am, I have nothing more to say. I am not going to argue with you. Please do not speak to me like that." 
She continued yelling and I started to walk away.

Why was she so angry? I've been behind drivers that aggravate me before, but I would never knock on their car window and yell at them! Where did all of that anger come from? It couldn't be from the one mile when I was driving slower than she'd like me to drive. 

This experience got me thinking: What does anger and blame accomplish? Truly...nothing. It does nothing, except exacerbate a bad situation! I think it also separates us from those making us angry. When we yell or point fingers or accuse, it's them! As we condemn and denounce others who err, we make ourselves feel better than, bigger than and we separate ourselves. By separating, that means that we are good. They are bad. (I say "we" because sometimes I do this too.)

LIFE isn't like that! We all make bad choices at times. Choices that hurt others. Choices that are wrong. Choices that are selfish. Each of us does this and we all do it everyday. If we are condemned, how will we learn? How can we learn? Learning, the best learning, happens in safe environments. It seems as if nowhere is safe anymore. 

We are quick to shame each other instead of considering empathy. Last week at the conference many teachers spent time in the exhibition hall. It's a glorious place where publishers and authors share books...often for free. Do some teachers appear greedy and pushy? Yup. Did I? I hope not, but maybe. I read some social media posts during and after the conference that complained about teachers. One blog post condemned all teachers in that hall. It even said these words, "Shame on you." I have to say that these words stung, for a while. Why must we shame each other? Isn't this a perfect opportunity to teach people the hows and whys of this experience? 

I got angry when I read about what happened to Jacqueline Woodson as she won the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming. Last week she responded, without any anger. She took this opportunity to be thoughtful and she used it to teach. I listened. I'm so grateful for Jacqueline Woodson's calm response in the midst of all of this anger and blame. 

When we talk, real learning can occur. We need to be able to disagree without branding each other as good vs. bad or right vs. wrong. We will never learn. I wonder, if that woman had mentioned to me that she was frustrated because she was running late, I probably (hopefully) would have apologized. Instead she yelled, and I think of her as unreasonable and mean. No one learned. 

The next time I'm in a situation where anger is a choice, I'd like to think that I can take a beat and think before I respond...think about what story that other person is carrying with them. Ask questions. Discuss. LISTEN. Be kind. Remember these words from Plato...


  1. Sheesh.
    I agree -- too much anger and not enough kindness.
    Sorry I have not stopped by your blog for a stretch of time, but I have been reading even if not leaving words here, my friend.
    Have a nice day. Embrace kindness.

  2. Oh Michelle-I'm sorry. Anger is everywhere isn't it? It shows up as such ugliness, and don't you think we are Called to do so much more? You clearly have such a kind, strong soul, it shows up in your writing. This saying from Plato is so important. Thanks for sharing.

  3. You hit it the nail on the head with this thought: "By separating, that means that we are good. They are bad. " That is the crux of it. I am so sorry this happened to you. What purpose did this serve but a whole lot of hurt. Thank you for sharing - I plan on sharing it with my students too!

  4. We are all too often quick to let anger surface. I really believe that people have become so self-centered that they think they and their needs are the only things that matter. I hate to admit that I sometimes feel that way too. What a shame.

  5. Michelle, this is a really thoughtful post. I agree, lately it seems as though anger is everywhere. Why? Why be angry?

    I can't believe that driver knocked on your window and yelled at you! I'm glad you were able to keep your cool, even though I'm sure your heart was pounding.

    I think all we can do is like Kevin said above, embrace kindness. That's what I try to teach my own kids.

  6. Amen! I love the way you responded so calmly and with dignity, Michelle. Bravo!

  7. Life is a series of challenges some days, Michelle. I have been thinking about choosing kind lately since the blame game seems to be rampant, even at the holidays when we should only think about gratitude. You seemed to have handled yourself with grace during your recent incident. Telling this story has made me think my own impatience and how it might affect others. Thank you.

  8. I LOVE that quote, Michelle. I've seen it before and reading it never gets old.

    I always tell my daughter to CHOOSE KIND. (She doesn't always say the kindest of things since she's still three!) I figure if I say it enough, she will eventually choose kind consistently without me telling her too.

    As for the tailgaiters and other angry people in the world. Perhaps they need someone to tell them to choose kind too.

  9. I love the quote you shared -- it is so true. Taking that minute to think before we respond is so important. I too so appreciated Jaqueline's response -- she lives by the theme of her book - Each Kindness. She took this opportunity to Choose Kindness.
    Thank you

  10. I'm sorry you had this experience, & I wonder about the stress that the anger shows. I've seen people behind me pound their steering wheels in frustration. It feels as if they feel they've lost control and want to gain it back, even by driving faster. Sorry about the NCTE experience. You had such a good time, dismiss the comment. That person too must need to lash out for some unexplainable reason. Hugs for the great post, Michelle.

  11. Such as horrible experience....but a wonderful quote to take with us on our adventures....that sadly will often include such experiences with people who do not stop to think////

  12. Ooh, lots of anger seems to be on the roads. I'm so sorry that happened to you. That is really unpleasant and unproductive. Your instinct, though, to be kind, thoughtful, and a good listener seems so positive. We can all learn from your post!

  13. Michelle,
    That's quite an experience. I had to laugh when you noticed she was going to pull into the same place, "Awkward." You make so many excellent points here. The world would be a much better place if we would all choose kind.


    P.S. Still trying to figure out how I managed to miss meeting you at NCTE. #ConferenceRegrets


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