In it together

Thursday, August 11, 2016

“This is going to cost you an absolute fortune.” The man’s face snarled in fury as he rushed towards me.

A moment earlier, I had oh-so-carefully opened the door of the car I was travelling in, conscious of him glaring hawk-eyed to check I did not come within a whisker of his red sports car. Inexplicably, we both heard the sickening click of my door making contact with his paintwork.

All hell broke loose.

He yelled and threatened and insisted that the bill he would send would break me because this was a PORSCHE, and making good the tiny nick would involve going to the main dealer for a respray in order not to invalidate the insurance.

Then his wife appeared, demanding to know why we were all squared up to each other in the car park. “She’s damaged the car.”

She rounded on me, face rigid with venom. “YOU IDIOT!”

I was sorry, and I had been saying so ever since I got out of the car to inspect the chaos my small mistake had wrought.

I had also made it clear that of course I would pay for the repair.

Not sorry enough

But what was I really sorry about? If I’m really honest, in the face of this fury, blame and aggression, it wasn’t the damage but the fact I’d given this unpleasant pair any reason at all to be in my life and to have some claim on me. There we were, my sister politely asking whether either of them had ever made a mistake, me keeping my temper and trying to talk to them rationally, but inside….?

Inside I actually hated them, considered them some of the most horrible people I’d encountered. The childish part of me thought the Porsche driver had brought it on himself - his fear I was about to hurt his precious car somehow MADE me do it.  If I could have found the words to cut them as they were hurting me then I’d have spoken them. Instead I was somehow proud of my restraint; of being the one who was behaving better.

Hours after we’d parted acrimoniously the whole episode was like a hard lump of gristle in my stomach. Wholly indigestible. I believe in the inherent good in everyone, and I also believe in connection - in choosing to focus on our common humanity. Why was it I could find nothing redeeming in these two people who I really knew nothing about?

All day and most of the night I played the whole thing over on a reel trying to work out what I might have done differently.

It was my friend Susie who reminded me I wouldn’t get to any kind of answer until I’d discharged the emotion. I was furious - with them and with myself - but truthfully I was also carrying a truckload of other angers about stuff I’d not dealt with. So in the privacy of my bedroom I did some yelling and pillow beating and felt the gristle dislodge. It was a mistake to try and swallow my feelings and shortcut to ‘working it out’.

Then I affirmed that all would be well. There would be no massive bill. I was safe.

Shifting gears

So it proved. When the email arrived from Mr Porsche it felt conciliatory. His car was a labour of love. It was rarely risked out of the garage. He was sure I felt his reaction was over the top but this was no rich man’s toy but a lifetime project. The dealership had advised it could be dealt with by a mobile repair outfit and the bill would be less than £100.

Since then we have exchanged polite but gentle emails. He has thanked me for handling it all reasonably and hopes there is no ‘ill will’. I have said I’m sure they are good people caught up in the stress of the situation and now the bill is settled wished them, through a gift of wine and chocs, many years of happy motoring.

But what could I have done differently? That lightbulb moment came this morning when I was reading in The Art of Possibility about the power of ‘WE’ rather than ‘I’.

Authors Rosamund and Benjamin Zander write: “More often than not history is a record of conflict between an Us and a Them.We see this pattern expressed across a broad spectrum: nation to nation, among political parties, between labor and management, and in the most intimate realms of our lives.”

How can shift from this position of opposition? They say it is by coming from a ‘we’: our essential togetherness. “By telling the We story an individual becomes a conduit for this new inclusive entity, wearing its eyes and ears, feeling its heart, thinking its thoughts, inquiring into what is best for US.”

Instead of making people the enemy they suggest we stand together against the real villians:  ‘revenge, pride, greed, fear and self-righteousness’.

While Mr Porsche stood in revenge, I met him in self-righteousness. I might have been apologising and assuring him I would pay for the damage but the words weighed light against the disdain turning to hatred in my heart.

My apology could never have worked unless I had meant it wholeheartedly. And allowed the unspoken language of my body, my whole self, to tell him I was hurting for him too, since the strength of his reaction showed me this was no mere scratch but something deep felt.

And then, what I might have done is cross the gulf between us and said “Genuinely, I am so very sorry, not only for the damage to the car but for upsetting you so much. I feel really upset too. I wonder if we could sit down and talk about how WE can sort this this out.”

Nudging the world forward, one tiny better choice at a time…

Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/11 at 07:03 AM
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