Using Your Asshole Moments to Cultivate Compassion

Have you ever been an asshole?

Ha, what a ridiculous question. Of course you have. We all have our moments, right?

Do you think back on those moments and wince? When you said something deliberately hurtful to a loved one, when you were rude to a stranger, when you were ruthless in order to get ahead somehow, when you threw a toddler-sized tantrum? Or, if you’re exceptionally virtuous, maybe you’ve simply had unkind thoughts about someone, or passed judgement prematurely.

One especially cringe-worthy asshole moment I had was in an airport. George Bush Intercontinental in Houston. I recommend avoiding this one if possible. Though my own actions didn’t help my experience there, I’m pretty sure it is horrible place.

George Bush Intercontinental. From Wikicommons

George Bush Intercontinental. From Wikicommons

I was returning from the memorial for my sister where she lived in San Jose del Cabo near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was January. She’d died in October. I was by myself returning to the cold, Canadian winter. As per the rigorous security procedures in the US, I had to go through customs and security again, though I’d already done this in Mexico and I was not staying in the US. Of course, the customs line was huge. I had about 40 minutes to get to my next flight and I knew I’d be in that line for nearly that length of time. When I (politely) asked someone who worked there if there was any way I could move ahead, her negative reply was rude and dismissive. This happened a couple of times.

So I stood on that line for a long while and watched the clock on the wall beneath the huge “George  Bush Intercontinental Airport” sign count me down to my next departing flight. When I got through, I had about ten minutes to get to my next gate. I stood in another line to check my bag through security. The man working this line was uncharacteristically friendly and humorous, clearly trying to manage the grumpy moods of the many passengers who were missing connections. He was great.

I was carrying a backpack and an extra suitcase full of my sister’s stuff. Even the bags were hers. They were beautiful things, objects that are in my house now and I treasure, but I really didn’t want them. So when this nice guy told me I couldn’t carry on these bags (though I had on my previous flight) and I’d have to check them AND pay extra and I’d definitely miss my flight, I lost it. I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but I cursed, maybe stomped, and punctuated my complaint by skittering under a rope, knocking the stand over with my backpack, and not returning to right it. To his credit, the guy made some joke and I heard a number of the people who’d been behind me laughing.

"Using Asshole Moments to Cultivate Compassion" on the self-styled life [photo by Mindaugus Danys on Flickr (text added)]

“Scream and Shout” from Mindaugus Danys on Flickr (text added)

Now, I understand why I was an asshole. The whole trip was gutting, I was nervous about leaving the support of family, and having to pay money to bring my dead sister’s stuff home was an extra twist of the knife.

Nevertheless, we still have to manage our emotions and act like reasonable humans. I’m ashamed that I acted that way, especially with the one airport employee who was actually nice.

Some instances of our assholish behaviour are reparable. We can apologize, we can fix our mistake, we can return to the scene and right the stanchion. Some instances cannot be changed, and we may always hold onto them with shame.

I can’t change my airport behaviour. So when I hear stories like this one, of a woman losing it because she missed a ferry in BC, I tend to give the person acting like an asshole the benefit of the doubt. Who knows what may have been making her suitcase especially heavy that day.

Have you ever acted like an asshole? How do you manage your emotions in these types of situations?

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One response to “Using Your Asshole Moments to Cultivate Compassion

  1. I watched the video before reading your post and it’s easy to dismiss the woman missing her ferry as an enraged nutter and judge her as a terrible person, but you are right we should give such people the benefit of the doubt and maybe consider what it is that has caused them to act in such an awful way rather than just condemning them.

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