I spent last weekend with my family celebrating my niece’s 17th birthday. I’d been looking forward to this weekend for ages because I deeply value family time…plus I was looking forward to spoiling the girls!
We arrived at our family holiday home on Friday and my sister and her family arrived on the Saturday morning. I put the kettle on as I heard the car pull into the driveway that morning and eagerly awaited the weekly news on everyone’s lives.
My sister, Cristy, arrived feeling indignant– highly disgruntled she was!
With a cuppa in hand, she regaled us with her story from her experience at the supermarket earlier that morning – it had left her outraged! And rightly so.
Cristy had been doing her food shopping and I’m sure she was thinking about a million other things simultaneously, busy as her life is. She rounded the end of an aisle and as she did, she walked in front of another lady with her trolley. Cristy adjusted her path and moved out of the way.
This woman – who was with her husband at the time – proceeded to ram her trolley into my sister’s ankle and leg!!! Cristy was obviously shocked and turned around to the woman to say: “You just ran your trolley into my leg!”.
“Well you shouldn’t have walked in front of me!” was the woman’s response. She had very intentionally wanted to hurt my sister – probably because of the end-of-aisle-congestion problem we all have to endure sometimes. But as Cristy pointed out – it’s not like there are mirrors at the end of each aisle so we can see around the corner.
Now, if I can tell you anything about my sister it’s that she has a fair bit of spunk – especially when met with a situation that totally requires it. She is a very well-regarded woman who has worked with people all her life – sometimes not very easy people. Cristy is quick to fire when annoyed and she had just come off an extremely full week (an extremely full year, in fact) so the woman had really messed with the wrong person! So I thought…
But my sister was simply too shocked…..
As Cristy stood there for a moment processing this rather unsophisticated act of violence, she glanced over at the woman’s husband. The poor guy wore a look of complete embarrassment along with a “oh no…here she goes again” look. His wife’s behaviour was certainly nothing new to him based on the apologetic look he was giving my sister.
As Cristy shared this tale, she told us there were so many retaliations, rebuttals and revenge strategies that were running through her head at the time, but what she decided on in that moment was simply to declare “You are a VERY horrible woman!!!”
Now, did this statement penetrate the thick, cold, reptilian-like skin of this nasty (obviously unhappy) woman? Most probably not.
Was saying that to her more effective than ramming her back with her own trolley in retaliation? Most probably not (I stress that I DO NOT suggest that as an option!).
But it was my sister’s way of reclaiming some of her power in the moment – without retaliating with violence or in some other childlike way. Her reaction was, however, quite unsatisfying for her – which is understandable especially given there was no apology whatsoever from her assailant.
What then ensued that morning was a lengthy discussion amongst my family about the wide and varied types of people we share the planet with – “it takes all sorts” after all. In this context I believe we had the happy ones and the unhappy ones on display.
This lady clearly was having more than just a bad day to want to physically hurt a stranger for simply walking in front of her in a supermarket aisle. Cristy told us “the thing that shocked me the most was that when I pointed out she’d run her trolley into me, she didn’t apologise or claim it to be an accident. She made it very clear that she’d intentionally wanted to hurt me as some sort of payback for crossing her path”.
In the face of being hurt either verbally or physically, it can be very hard to be compassionate to our aggressors. If, for a quick moment, I stood in the most empathetic place I could muster, I would wonder this: What on earth is going on in that woman’s life that makes her okay with behaving so viciously??
Is it that she has been hurt so badly in the past that hurting others has become a natural response?
Is it that she feels powerless in her life so she’ll take whatever tiny bit of power she can from whoever is around at the time?
Is it that she is simply so disappointed in life here on earth that she no longer feels any kindness towards others?
Who knows! We won’t ever know, but the thing I left the group with was a pretty good adage if I do say so myself: Hurt People hurt people.
For any human to be okay with hurting another, they must have experienced a level of hurt themselves. Happy people who have great lives don’t ram their shopping trolleys into others with the intention of causing harm!
My sister handled herself very well, in my opinion. It would have been easy to lose her temper and yell and scream, but really, what does that achieve? For Cristy to be the bigger person and walk away bruised, yet grateful that she is not living with that level of pain in her life, is a beautiful thing.
Compassion and empathy are always going to be the great diffusers in moments like these.