Minding other people’s business

Once a week I take mum to pay her bills in town and once a week my inner traffic warden leaps out as smartly as The Spanish Inquisition in those old Monty Python sketches.

Even before I’ve unpacked the wheelchair I’m scanning other cars to check they have blue badges on display.

Sadly, this isn’t the only time I don a virtual uniform to check up on other people. Dull and foggy days see me flashing drivers without headlights on. “I can see the other cars on the road perfectly well”, I mimic what I imagine they are thinking.  “Right, idiot!” the traffic cop in me responds. “ But have you considered we can’t see YOU?”

Byron Katie says there are three kinds of business: our business, God’s business (for which you are welcome to substitute the laws of the Universe), and other people’s business.

Yet it’s only just struck me how much time I actually spend minding other people’s business in this way.

The truth and nothing but the truth?

But hang on… surely sticking my nose into other people’s business is justified? Disabled parking exists to make life a tad easier for people like mum, and unsafe driving habits put us all at risk.

I get that, but I’m not willing to let myself off the hook for two reasons.

Firstly, even as I am setting myself up as judge and jury over bad driving habits, I know it’s rare that we ever truly know what’s going on. That woman I’m angry with for nabbing the last disabled space without a blue badge may be dashing into town on an urgent errand for a sick neighbour. Or her life may be an impossible juggling act of responsibilities and stress, or her husband left her last week and she’s not thinking straight - and in that sense she may be suffering far more than mum – or me if I have to push mum an extra 100 metres.

Or she may have the kind of dis-ease that isn’t immediately obvious -  perhaps she’s in the middle of chemo for instance – and has forgotten her blue budge, as I do sometimes.

Feeling bad

And secondly, judgement doesn’t feel good.

There’s no doubt that driving a dark car on a dark road without lights is foolish and dangerous. But so is allowing my thoughts to chunter away, working themselves up from irritation to anger, assuming transgressors are being arrogant rather than forgetful.  My hawk-like focus on finding and furiously flashing every lightless-car is bound to make me a less attentive driver. Just as choosing thoughts of anger, blame, judgement make me a less peaceful one.

If what we give out is what we get back, sitting in judgement on others is only reinforcing those old thought patterns in which I judge myself (for not being good enough or kind enough or hardworking enough or any other type of enough).
Becoming aware how much judging is going on when I’m minding other people’s business has been like lights going on in my own mind. As I let go of judging others, choosing instead thoughts of compassion and understanding, I can do the same for myself.

That doesn’t mean that if the last disabled parking spot is occupied by someone who’s clearly only pulled in to use the cash machine I won’t smile and politely ask if they’d mind pulling back a little as there’s nowhere else for us to park. Nor that on a dusky autumn day I won’t do all of us a friendly favour by flashing my lights at a car I almost missed in the gloom. But that I will try to do so without judgement.

My choices. My business.

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