There are always situations in which there are many potential responses. Often times, one may be uncertain how best to proceed, uncertain which response will deliver the most desirable outcome. Sometimes we evaluate a situation based on what we would like to achieve, or how we would like to feel about ourselves. Othertimes, we may choose a response based on how it will affect the other person. The complexity of this process can be overwhelming. Often times, we make our choice without much thought or awareness. Yet other times, we are so painfully aware, that we may become paralyzed by the options.
I was recently in such a situation. I was on a flight during which I accidentally saw that the person next to me was texting to one of her contacts. I was not intentionally snooping or trying to eavesdrop. But what I saw made my heart fall. This seatmate of mine was using hurtful, negative language to discuss her displeasure of sitting next to me. In fact, it was not my actions that incited her words, rather it was my figure that she found displeasing. I was hurt by her words and struggled to decide how to respond.
I had many thoughts as to how I should respond. I thought about leaning over and informing her that I could see her screen, unsure whether I should comment on the content I was able to see. I thought about loudly telling my travel partner what I had just read. I even thought about using negative, hurtful language towards her, acknowledging her hurtful words and the anger which they had stirred inside of me.
In the end, I chose kindness. I did not address the woman about the words that I accidentally read on her screen. I am not certain that this absence of a response was the correct response, and at times, I wonder whether I should have done something differently. However, at this point in time, it is a moot point. The time to act has passed. I cannot go back and change my response. However, I am content with my choice. I did not respond with anger, although I certainly felt angry. I did not respond with unkind words, which would have not done anything to improve the situation or world. I did not seek to make this person feel bad, as she made me feel.
I choose to respond with kindness, as I chose to define it in that moment. I responded using my values of treating others kindly and to do no harm. My definition of kindness here may differ from others, and may even differ from my own definition on another occasions, but this is the definition on which I based my response. I was not certain of the best way to change the situation for the better, to educate this person about the ramification of their actions. I did know that I did not want to cause pain, embarrassment, or shame for this person. I have experienced those emotions and did not want to be the cause of those feelings for someone else. With all the options available to me, I chose what would not bring shame to myself. I chose to be kind and not to potentially create feelings of shame and embarrassment to this woman.
Karen Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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