I find the amount of negativity from people, especially online, very wearing. Sometimes it seems like the only thing anyone agrees on these days is how much they hate some other person or group. The incident that really brought this into sharp relief for me was of an offline nature, though.
A few years ago, my car got towed. It was entirely my own fault – to save money, I parked at a garage a few blocks away rather than paying for a dedicated spot in my building, but I would sometimes park in the reserved spots behind the building for a few minutes to drop off groceries before re-parking. One time, I got a phone call while putting stuff in the fridge, and forgot to move my car. I left it there a whole week (I was walking to work at the time), and it got towed.
The feeling I got when I realized that my car was neither in the garage or behind the building was absolutely awful. I had no idea where my car was, or how much it was going to cost me to get it back. It was a simple mistake and the consequences seemed drastically out of proportion. I wanted to lash out at someone.
Instead, I called the number of the tow place, and they confirmed they had my car. I walked two miles in the sweltering summer heat, waited 45 minutes for the guy to show up, and then asked him what I had to do to get my car back. I filled out some paperwork, forked over a few hundred bucks, and in the middle of it all he said something that has stuck with me ever since.
“You know, you’re really being good about this,” he said.
Well yeah, I explained, it was entirely my own fault for being an idiot and leaving my car illegally parked for a week. It wasn’t his fault.
“Most people don’t see it that way,” he said, a bit sadly.
At that point I realized just how awful a job this guy has. Someone’s got to tow illegally parked cars, wrecks, and what have you. Very few people are ever happy to have to talk to the guy who towed their car. I’m sure they heap mountains of abuse on these guys, because they’re mad, and this guy is now asking for a whole lot of money for them to get their car back. (Which I’m sure, in their eyes, was unfairly towed in the first place.) This particular guy seemed almost resigned when I met him, and looked at me like I was some kind of weirdo, apparently for not blowing up at him.
So please, people. Don’t take out your anger on people who don’t deserve it. Don’t assume every person who wrongs you in some small way did so maliciously, and don’t overreact to mistakes people make. Every time you get cut off, remember that time you cut someone off but you had a perfectly good excuse (“he was in my blind spot!”). They probably do, too. And if they don’t, getting mad at them isn’t going to change anything anyway.