Finding Freedom Week 10: My 4 Most Dangerous Words

The other day I was driving to the grocery store. It wasn’t a good day. In fact, it had been a generally crummy day.

I was sick. I was in a foul mood. My two year old had been in particularly full blown terrible two form, and Mike had done something to irritate me.

I don’t know what it was, something innocuous, because I don’t even remember what it was. Maybe he loaded the dishwasher wrong – left a mess in the kitchen cooking the boys breakfast – or perhaps made the epic mistake of telling me to “have fun” as I was heading out to go grocery shopping. Essentially – he was being and/or doing something nice – and I was finding a reason to be grumpy about it.

But Fun? Fun???

Seriously? Did he think that being able to leave the kids for 30 minutes to go grocery shopping was what now counted as “fun” for me? Or maybe it’s just irritating because I do look forward to those 30 minutes of leisurely strolling down the aisle’s……..

The bottom line – on this day – I was in a bad mood. Fully charged, and ready to unload on the next poor sap that gave me a sideways glance.

It takes roughly 2 minutes and 38 seconds to drive from our house to our nearest grocery store. Including parking time.

It’s a quick trip.

But in those 2 minutes and 38 seconds, I found the victim of my pent up irritation.

Actually – she found me.

It was busy traffic – I had left to go shopping right in the thick of rush hour. A time when frankly – I avoid shopping, driving, or generally being out and about at all costs. One of the luxuries of being retired – I can hand pick the times I decide to run errands.

But for reasons that are inexplicable to me – here I was – out in rush hour traffic, trying to fight my way across the lanes just to turn into the grocery store parking lot.

I signalled well in advance, paced myself to slide in neatly behind the blue SUV along side me, and generally followed all the rules of considerate driving. At least I thought I did.

Until the lady behind the Blue SUV realized that I was trying to change lanes in front of her.

It appeared she was instantly offended by my intentions – despite the fact that she’d left about 8 car lengths between her and Blue SUV. She quickly recognized the error of her ways, hit the gas and self corrected to ensure there was only .25 car lengths remaining between her and Blue SUV.

Her actions loudly conveyed several expletives and a general challenge to go ahead and try to change lanes now. In retrospect, she was clearly having a bad day too.

But my turn was quickly approaching, and I needed to get over. Although, if I’m being honest, at that point it wouldn’t have mattered if I had another 20 kilometres before my turn or 20 feet, I was getting in front of this lady, come hell or high water.

I expertly edged my way in front of her, leaving her with the options of hitting the median, hitting me, or backing off. For a moment, I thought she was going to choose option B…….but in our brief game of chicken, I think she sensed I wasn’t backing down.

Option C it was.

I felt a brief sense of satisfaction and dominance. Winning.

We then exchanged several animated gestures at each other, and I made my turn into the grocery store.

Then I realized – obnoxious car lady had made the same turn. Right into the grocery store parking lot. I quickly parked, and got out of my car, head on a swivel. Eyes rapidly searching the parking lot so I could give this woman an earful.

Never mind that this was the grocery store I come to multiple times per week. Often with my youngest child in tow. My logical brain had been left in the dust. I was ready to make a SCENE.

I grabbed my grocery cart and marched into the store, scanning every aisle I walked down for any sign of  this woman who clearly needed to be yelled at and taught a lesson.

Lucky for her (and me) she was either savvy enough to keep a wide berth and dodge me in the store, or maybe she wisely decided that she didn’t really need more Cheerio’s at that exact moment.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t find her. Which then gave me the requisite time I needed to calm down.

By the time I was back in the car, I was not only calm, but I was now in shock at my behaviour. I am not one to road rage, nor am I one to over react much at all. Usually I’m the one telling other people to calm down.

What just happened?

It didn’t take me long to put together the complex puzzle that realistically, this had nothing to do with obnoxious car lady. She was just the unlucky commuter who tipped the scales and provided me with a random target to unleash my frustrations upon.

But really, what would I have done if I’d actually found her at the store? Yelled at her? Cursed? Told her she was a jerk of a driver? I’m sure she would have said the same to me.

But then my brain stubbornly uttered four little words. Four little, but dangerous, justifying words:

“IT’S ABOUT THE PRINCIPLE!”

YES! Exactly! This wasn’t about me. This was about her driving behaviour. Someone (clearly me) needed to tell her that her behaviour was unacceptable, that she was just being plain rude. She could have just been a considerate driver and let me in. She needed to learn.

Obviously the universe had thrust this incredible responsibility upon me of ensuring that this woman comprehended the full scope of her bee-otch-ness.

Wait…..what? (My logic brain was playing catch-up).

These four little words seemed awfully familiar to me. I immediately flashed back to myriad times I used them to justify pursuing ultimately irrelevant points at work. I recalled having used them multiple times to justify unnecessary arguments with my ex-husband during our divorce. I distinctly recall Mike and I using them to justify our position in relation to meaningless stuff during his drawn-out divorce with his ex-wife.

It’s about the principle.

Such powerful little words. They form the flag in the ground. The line drawn in the sand. The mountain to die on. They sound so moral, so virtuous. They convince our brain that it’s not about us, it’s about preventing the wrong that has been done from continuing. About ensuring someone else is aware that what they’ve done/said is unacceptable. For the betterment of all humanity.

They can instill such commitment in action and direction. Justify uncivilized behaviour.

But they come at a cost. Pursuing the “principle” has a price. Sometimes it’s an emotional one, sometimes a financial. It always comes at the cost of your time. And in the worst cases, a combination of all three.

So am I saying we shouldn’t stand up for our principles?

Absolutely not. But if I’m being honest with myself, when I look back at the instances I used those words to motivate and justify my actions, 99 times out of 100, I was dying on a molehill, not a mountain. The cost greatly outweighed the benefit, and the true motivator was really to make myself feel better about some perceived wrong.

Rarely did it have the desired effect.

So what did I learn from my little road rage excursion? Aside from maybe just staying home when I’m having a bad day – it reminded me to be on high alert anytime my brain spits out those four dangerous little words.

To step back from the situation and change my angle of view. And to truly analyze what exactly I’m “fighting” for.

Because whether it’s a 30 second road rage incident, an argument with your spouse, an investment decision, or something much more substantial, those words have power. The power to act as a cloaking device that efficiently justifies our most unpleasant behaviour and actions, and in the end, almost always leaves us feeling worse than when we started.

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