I caught myself acting like an angry jerk the other day. I don’t like myself when that person comes out. It reminds me too much of some things I grew up with — and of things I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to escape.
It really wasn’t a big deal. It was just a few seconds. Nobody else would remember it. Few would have noticed when it happened. But it’s stayed with me since late last week, almost taunting me like something from the past that I thought was dead.
I was driving down a busy road near my house last week. I think it was Thursday afternoon, but it might have been Friday. There was a car trying to turn left out of a business, so the driver had to turn across a lane of traffic to get to another one. Instead of waiting for a time when traffic was clear in both directions — or turning right and then turning around — he instead pulled out and blocked one lane of traffic completely while he waited for the other lane to clear so he could pull out.
What he did was rude and against all traffic rules. He ended up holding up quite a number of people for 30 seconds or so, which seemed a lot longer while it was going on. But in the scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t in the hurry. It didn’t affect my life one bit.
But I was angry. He was violating the rules. He was cheating. He was holding me up. I blew my horn in righteous indignation.
It didn’t do any good, of course. My lane was blocked. Then it was unblocked and we moved on. It made no difference, but I was left angry and very unhappy with myself.
Why did I have to judge in this case? Why couldn’t I simply have accepted the situation as it existed and waited for it to resolve itself?
I can’t say for sure, but I have an idea. I grew up in a family where we weren’t allowed to have opinions different from those of my father. If I had a different thought than he had about something, I learned to keep it to myself. He would judge me harshly and I might even end up in trouble for having a different thought. It didn’t matter what the subject was. It could be music or humor or pretty much anything. So I grew up feeling angry at not being listened to and feeling very judged by someone else.
When I became an adult, I was finally able to show my frustration with people, but it was difficult. I was afraid to show disagreement, because I’d never been allowed to do so in small ways. So I still kept it bottled up, but would eventually get mad enough to be extremely angry in ways that I didn’t like.
It wasn’t until four or five years ago that I understood that some of that behavior was a shadow of what I’d experienced from my father. In my own small way, I was emulating him. And I constantly felt attacked — even over small things — so I felt that I must respond to everyone who I perceived as wronging me. As a result, I got into ugly online flame wars with people. I occasionally raged about other people in real life in ways that were out of proportion to the reality of the situation. I didn’t like what I’d become, and a great part of it came from the insecurity I felt. I was still acting as though those other people were all my father judging me.
I had to do a lot of work on myself to try to change that. In most ways, I’ve changed the behavior through very intentional decisions not to be that person — to overcome the training I got as a child.
Every now and then, though, I see just a slice of it again. Just a very tiny slice. That’s what happened last week. In the past, I felt justified in the way I felt and acted. Now, though, it makes me sick when I see even a hint of it, because it’s not who I want to be.
When it came to the basic issue last week, I was right. The driver of the other car was completely wrong. He had no right to do what he did. But by letting myself be so invested in judging him — and feeling wronged — I became the one who was wrong.
And now I have to accept a related truth. I’ve grown tremendously over the years when it comes to this issue, but I’m still not perfect. The Buddha is quoted as saying, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” So if I continue to judge myself and beat myself up for letting the shadow of an old pattern show itself, I’ll be wrong in yet another way.
So the best I can say is that I’m still terribly imperfect. I always will be. But I’m trying really hard not to judge you or myself. Sometimes it’s very difficult.