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It never ceases to amaze me how rude some people can be. A snide remark or a thoughtless gesture can seem so absurd and so uncalled for. Why would someone ever treat another person with any level of disrespect? The other evening I had an encounter with a man who almost left me feeling that same way. He came into my restaurant and made his demands in a matter-of-fact, grouchy sort of way. I felt myself wanting to write him off as just another jerk. Why go out of my way? Just as well, I am sure all of you can relate to a time when someone seemingly mistreated you.

love your enemies

It was in that moment, I recalled a quote I heard many years earlier. It is a favorite of mine in that it speaks to the innate need for love that lives inside all of us. “No one needs a smile as much as a person who fails to give one.” What this quote suggests is that it is usually the person who acts the rudest whom needs the most love. These are the people who have, for various reasons, closed their hearts off to love. They live in a state that lacks love. Maybe they were abused or had their heart broken. Maybe they are depressed or maybe they just lost a loved one. It might be a bad day, or something much worse. We may never know. What we are able to discern is the lack of love they are exhibiting in their interaction with us. Even if they don’t say a word, we can energetically sense it as an uncomfortable disharmony that permeates their being.

When we find ourselves in these interactions, our “fight or flight” mechanisms can begin to kick in. We either want to give them a piece of our mind, or run the other way. Some may even take a more passive aggressive approach. One example of this may be to drive even more slowly when an “irritable” person is driving too close behind us. For whatever reason we feel we need to defend ourselves in some way. After all, this person needs to learn that it is not okay to treat others that way. Our goal becomes to somehow put that person in their place. It is us against them.

What we fail to realize in that moment is that we have taken that person’s actions personally. We made it about us. The second agreement in the book, “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz, states “don’t take anything personally.” It was a huge life lesson for me the day I realized that it is never about you. What it means, when you take things personally, is that somewhere inside of yourself you agree with what the other person is saying. You must be stupid, or a slow driver, or whatever else that person implied. Why else would you need to defend yourself? What I have come to learn is that nothing other people do or say is because of me. It is always because of themselves. In this world, we each have our own interpretations of what is happening around us. If I think the world is a hateful, cruel place, that is my subjective reality. It is a lonely, dark place to be…but it is always my choice.

empathy, compassion, loveWhat this realization has taught me is to be a more compassionate person. When I recognize that the actions of others are not about me, I am able to get myself out of the way. I lose the need to defend myself or put another “in their place.” If someone is acting rudely, I try to have empathy for them. I try to send them love in whatever way I can. What pain that person must be enduring to treat others in such a manner. Only a person who lives without love can act this way.  Their internal discord is so deep it spills outside of them into their interactions with others…and we feel it. We feel their fear, or absence of love.

So what can we do if we find ourselves in one of these situations? For that answer, I leave you with the words of two wise men who endured much hate in their lifetime. They endured much hate, but saw the need for love underneath of it all:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.—Martin Luther King Jr.

Love your enemies, Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you…—Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:44)