We try, but we often fail. The key is to pick yourself up and try again, a bit smarter this time.
Last week, I fell short of living my philosophy of treating people with kindness and remaining centered at all times.
Nancy was driving, I was in the passenger seat and we stopped at a red light. There was a car stopped next to us in the left lane.
As the light was turning green, I heard the sound of boots scuffing on pavement.
I looked to the left and a young man with long hair, a cowboy hat, and an open plaid shirt and jeans was walking in front of the car next to us. He was about to walk in front of us.
The light turned green and Nancy, oblivious to the pedestrian, started to gun the engine to drive forward.
"Stop!" I shouted and grabbed her shoulder. She slammed on the brakes just as the young man walked in front of our car.
"Jesus!" Nancy shouted.
Naturally, the adrenalin was flowing and we were both shocked at how close the young man had come from getting run over.
He kept walking and Nancy shouted, "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
The young man looked at us and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, "Who cares?"
I said to him, "No big loss, I guess, huh?"
As soon as I said it, I regretted it. Nancy drove away, and I couldn't take it back.
It haunted me for a couple of days. Due to the shock of almost hurting someone, I lost my center.
What I should have said to him is, "Be careful!"
That would have been the kind and centered thing to do.
There was an important message in this particular episode. I took it this way:
Every person you encounter has very possibly gone through horrible things in their lives. Be kind to them.
I can't think of a better way to reflect my philosophy of life than that. I grew up as a Christian. At least, that's what my mother told me I was. But as I grew old enough to think for myself, as I got into martial arts and began reading books on philosophical Taoism and Zen Buddhism, I saw better, kinder ways of looking at the world. Enough of the eternal punishment bullshit. Enough already. Enough of vengeance. Enough.
We are now in a social media age where people post and share memes that assume the worst about everyone and try to stoke our anger at "the other guy who isn't like us."
I believe a lot of us don't think very deeply when we see a meme that criticizes a group of people and think, "Oh, that's good," and then share it. We forget that in reality, most people have good intentions, and I know that many people we encounter every day have been wounded by events in their lives that have left them damaged. Some of them are facing tragedies that we can't see, or trying to recover from ordeals that we can't see just by looking at them.
This young man who apparently didn't care if he was hit by a car, for example. What happened to him that would make him feel that way? Was he abused? Did something happen to make him consider himself worthless? Is he suffering from addiction or mental illness? When he was growing up, did he go to bed at night wondering if the next footsteps in the hall would bring someone who was going to beat him?
I don't know.
But I do know that I can be a better person than I was when he shrugged his shoulders. I should have lived my philosophy of treating all people with kindness, with humor, with respect and empathy. That is the way of the Tao. That is what a centered person would do.
I have remained calm and centered in a lot of tense, near-violent situations, but coming so close to such a senseless accident was shocking. It taught me a lesson of how a sudden rush of adrenalin and the horror of almost hurting someone can cause you to lose your balance, but that's not really a good excuse.
We fall short of our goals. We all do. The key is the lesson we learn from it, and whether we can recognize it when we fail.
We can make the world a more positive place, but it doesn't start with the other guy. It starts with us. With me. With you.
I'm going to do better next time.
--by Ken Gullette