I was talking to a friend the other day about dealing with situations that trigger our annoyance and how we respond to them. We noticed that when we interpret another person's behavior as being about us, it tends to evoke a stronger response than is usually productive. Dealing with someone who is late provides a good example of how this works. If I am sitting at a restaurant and the person I am meeting for lunch is 20 minutes late, my mood is dependent on what I tell myself about it. If I interpret the other person's behavior as being an intentional disrespect to me, I will likely be angry. If I tell myself that they might be late because they had an accident, I will probably feel worried. If I brought my knitting and tell myself how sweet it is to have a quiet 20 minutes to be still and meditate on my wool in the middle of an otherwise busy day, I will likely feel serene and grateful. It is my interpretation of the situation that creates my emotional experience, not the situation itself. Albert Ellis, of Rational Emotive Therapy fame, used a simple mathematical equation: A + B = C, with A representing the Activating Event, B being the Belief or interpretation about the event and C representing the emotional Consequence.
In the lunch scenario described above, if I have a history of feeling disrespected, or of worrying, the first place my mind goes is probably the perspective of that old familiar emotional path. I may not have a lot of control of my "knee jerk" reaction, and may start to worry or feel angry before I even know I am doing it. Once I become aware of what I am doing, my decision is whether I stay in that place and justify my position, or instead choose a different thought process and take responsibility for changing my perspective. Easier said than done. Much of our unconscious programming is based on being right in order to stay alive and has become distorted due to what author Don Miguel Ruiz refers to as our "domestication and denial". Ruiz wrote: "When someone says, "You are pushing my buttons," it is not exactly true. What is true is that you are touching a wound in his mind, and he reacts because it hurts." So perhaps it is more true, more helpful to think, "ouch, I am tender there" rather than to think someone is Intentionally Doing Something To Me. People do what they do because of who they are and how they have become in response to their beliefs about their experiences. Other people's behavior is really not about us; however, if we insist on taking it personally and act as if it is about us, that may indeed become the reality we create.
Another factor in the equation is that we are powerless to change another's actions. We can threaten, yell, make demands and criticize.... usually just creating more upset. Or we can invite, encourage, offer helpful tools and road maps, or even just simply request that someone do something differently. But either way, we can't make them change; their behavior is outside our control. What we can do is gently and lovingly disengage the ego when it loses connection with the soul self and tries to run the show. I can remind myself that my job is to deal with me and my beliefs and behaviors, that my 'responsibility' is my 'ability to respond'. I can recognize that that we all have "wounds" in our minds and notice how much easier it is to see someone else's, especially if it mirrors one of my own that I prefer not to see. And if I am unwilling to sit and wait for someone who is continually late, I can either start without them or choose to stop meeting them for lunch.