Do not make your mind a dumping ground for other people’s garbage.Ezra Taft Benson
My friend and I were walking down the road after a park run. As we chatted happily and minded our own business, an angry man walked up to us and started hurling insults at us.
“Hey bitches, why aint you wearing masks, you fucking idiots!”
We were stunned. “What just happened?”
He wasn’t done, “return to your countries you stupid bitches!”
We burst out laughing and continued on our way. The whole thing was too funny and comical to warrant further thoughts. Though it was unprovoked, we decided to ignore him and walk away. He probably had issues and lashing out at strangers was his therapy. We could still hear his insults a few miles down the road. As the saying goes, misery loves company, he wanted to provoke us on purpose, however, we were decidedly on the positive attitude and outlook. Although having a positive attitude doesn’t always solve a problem, sometimes the look on people’s faces is enough satisfaction.
The biggest lesson about this incident was that we didn’t react. We didn’t hurl insults at the man, no matter how much he deserved it. We didn’t even tell him to ‘fuck off’… you know…. Britishism 101….. when you are absolutely lost for words, “fuck off” is usually the British way forward.
In his book, the law of the garbage truck, David J Pollay said, “many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you. So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well and move on. Believe me, you’ll be happier.”
That was true in our case. Instinctively we refused to get tangled in his poison. We refused to bathe in his pool of negativity and hatred. He was probably hoping for retaliation just so he could take it to the next level, we refused to give him such power. His frustration was visible in his mangled face. His twisted lips bubbled with vile words. His fists clenched ready for battle. His eyes bulged wildly. He looked scary and scared.
Later we digested the situation. How did we manage to stay so calm and collected? How did we manage to laugh it off and walk away with our dignity? A few years ago, believe me when I tell you, this man would have received a few choice words and dirty looks. This is the epitome of personal growth.
What I know for sure is that it is not worth it to let people rent space in your head for garbage, hatred, bias, and abuse of any kind.
I heard the story of a preacher who was harshly being criticised by a journalist. The journalist’s criticism bordered on personal attack but the preacher kept smiling and not saying a word. Exasperated, the journalist asked him, “why aren’t you saying something? Don’t you have anything to say about these claims?”
The preacher said this: “If I give you a gift and you refuse to take it, the gift remains with me, right? Right. In the same way, if someone insults you and you don’t respond by defending or explaining yourself, the harsh words stays with them. Responding to insults/criticism is the same as accepting the gift. Therefore, I refuse your gifts.” Needless to say, the journalist wasn’t happy.
In our case, just because that man called us bitches and idiots doesn’t make us bitches and idiots and letting that ruin any part of our day is as stupid as believing someone when they say they can fly. We refused to accept that vile gift.
Some might say this is easier said than done. That is true because humans are hardwired to protect themselves and defend their honour and it takes tremendous will power not to say something equally awful. However, it is not what people say to your face (or about you to others), it is what you believe about yourself that gets under your skin. If you believe you are beautiful, no amount of ‘ugly’ insults can bring you down. You are assured and confident in your belief. But as humans most times we become frustrated because of how others see us, or how they value us, and we let their idea of us fortify our insecurities and internal voices of doubt and we react. We react by returning fire, or by explaining why we are not what they think, or by justifying our beliefs. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
No one can control what people think and say to you or about you, but absolutely everyone can control how they react to whatever is said or done. This means not letting people rent space in your head with garbage and vitriolic behaviour. You have absolute power as to what occupies your headspace, certainly not garbage.
This is what I have learnt:
- Absolutely do not take things personally – there will always be something about you that someone doesn’t like. Taking things personally means reacting to the same energy as your aggressor and that is a victory for them.
- Don’t waste precious time and/or energy trying to understand or rationalise their behaviour – that is their problem. By all means be compassionate and understanding but not to the extent that it costs you happiness and joy.
If you find yourself tangled up in a negative space e.g. at work or home with people you can’t always avoid, separate yourself from the situation. Sometimes smiling might brighten someone’s moment. Smile as you walk away.
- When a negative person presents as a challenge or a threat, the natural instinct is to self-preserve which, without thought, is impulsive and confrontational. Sometimes you must fight your natural innate instincts because your mental health is more important than any situation.
- Do not judge – there are millions of people walking the earth with unfathomable issues and everyone is a target. You can only control what you can control.
Be realistic. Be kind. Be humble.
Photo credit: Jeffery Erhunse – unsplash