adventures in making stuff with Daniel Higginbotham

Love is Power

21 September 2012

"You can't park like that, you dumb bitch!" A man, not ten feet away, had just shouted this at my then-girlfriend Su.

It was the middle of winter in New England, and the streets were narrow with large snow banks piled on each side. Earlier, Su had called people all day trying to get someone to remove the snow -- to no avail.

That night I was helping her get groceries out of the car, parked temporarily in front of the house, and the snow bank made it hard for other cars to pass. She laughingly commented that "now people can't get through!" Besides being unable to finding someone to plow the snow, a lot of other stuff had gone wrong that day, and the best we could do was laugh.

And then that man starting shouting at us from inside his truck. We took it in stride, but then the guy rolled down his window. He just wouldn't stop. He parked up the street, got out and continued shouting, even after we told him we were parked there because Su's disabled and that we'd call the police if he didn't stop.

When he finally left I was furious. This was right before heading to aikido practice, so I thought to myself, "What's an aikido way to deal with this?" If you don't know what aikido is, it's pretty much a martial art for hippies. Here's a quote from its founder:

Aikido is love. You make this great great love of the universe your heart and then you must make your own mission the protection and love of all things.

-- O Sensei

In aikido you train to extend love to all things - including angry jerks yelling at you for no reason. Including people who are attacking you, whether physically or verbally or indirectly.

So I took a step back, and tried to see it from Angry Jerk's perspective. Clearly, he was distressed. For someone to blow up uncontrollably like that they have to be in some kind of emotional turmoil. And that freed something up inside me.

Thinking about Angry Jerk with love and compassion opened up enough space for me to realize that, actually, I was completely OK. Sure, this guy had made me scared, but right then I was physically safe and unharmed. What I found was that extending love and compassion towards the people attacking you forces you to be OK. You have to be full in order to give, and the act of giving creates fullness

I went to AJ's house. When I knocked on the door, he answered it, and I said something like, "I know that the way we parked made it hard to drive -- in fact, we were about to move the car when you came by. We're sorry it made it hard for you to drive."

We went back and forth a little, and the guy said he thought Su was laughing at him. When I told him she was laughing at the situation, not at him, he started saying he was sorry over and over, sorry for being a jerk, and I should tell Su he apologized.

In this situation, many people would feel like they had to "set this jackass straight". They'd feel the need to assert their manhood or otherwise angrily retaliate to demand respect.

But think about it - how likely are you to respect someone who's blowing up at you? Fear them, maybe. Respect them, no. Besides that, you risk escalating the situation to the point where it does become physical. And finally, you end up losing sight of the fact that another human is in distress. You diminish your capacity for compassion.

We never invited the guy over for dinner or anything, but I think the situation was resolved pretty happily. It was pretty awesome to be able to confront the guy in a non-threatening, non-accusatory way, and to have him end up apologizing.

There have been many other times during my life where I've employed this technique, and it has never failed me. It empowers me to protect myself and in the process lift up others.