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The Daily Struggle with Fairness

Many things can ruin our day: insufficient funds, unrequited love, unsatisfying work. But today, let’s discuss a common challenge: fairness. When we’re out and about doing our daily tasks and someone is unfair to us, particularly a stranger, it can be upsetting. We might not always say something, but it’s a recurring irritation.

Sometimes, we can practically count the instances of unfairness we encounter, and it can genuinely ruin our day. For example, we could be driving along comfortably, maintaining a safe distance from the car in front of us, only for someone to cut in. We adjust our distance, and then it happens again, over and over, leaving us increasingly frustrated.

Customer service calls can be equally frustrating. The long wait times build up irritation, and when our call is finally answered, we’re already on edge. And then, the person on the other line hangs up on us. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Unfairness at the Gym

I’ve been going to the gym for a very long time, several times a week. Now, gyms have their own etiquette—unwritten rules about how things are done. I’ve even asked the gym staff about these rules to ensure I’m following them, but not everyone does. You can confront them, challenge them, and sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn’t, and people get incredibly angry when confronted. Maybe it’s all the energy at the gym but pointing out unfair behavior can really set someone off.

The Big Question

So, here’s a big question: Is it possible to navigate life’s unfairness while maintaining inner peace and happiness? I believe it is, but you might not like my answer, as it could challenge you. You might even say, “But Dr. Puff, that’s not fair!”

However, the question we often need to ask ourselves isn’t whether something is fair, but whether our reactions promote inner peace. How we respond to unfairness greatly impacts our well-being.

Important Clarifications

Before we delve deeper, let me clarify two things:

  1. Social Injustice: I’m not discussing social injustice here. We need figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi to fight against systemic unfairness.
  2. Domestic Unfairness: I’m not addressing domestic unfairness. Those situations are far more intricate and complex, although similar principles may apply.

This discussion focuses on how we handle unfairness from strangers in our daily lives.

Why Not Address Unfairness?

Now, you might be wondering why we shouldn’t address unfairness. It’s true that speaking up can sometimes be effective; people back down when challenged. But not always. Occasionally, we encounter individuals who are so angry that pushing back only escalates their rage tenfold.

The Dangers of Rage

These encounters, often referred to as “road rage” (though not limited to the road), are frightening, exhausting, and can even lead to PTSD-like symptoms. We’ve all heard news stories of altercations turning violent, even fatal. There’s simply no way to predict how someone will react.

While most people respond reasonably when we address unfairness, it’s that one time when we’re met with extreme anger that can be truly upsetting and potentially harmful. I don’t want any of us to be hurt, so I’m presenting a different approach today—one that might resonate with you. I believe this approach can de-escalate situations and improve your overall well-being. Over the years, I’ve been interviewed numerous times by the media about road rage, and I’ve seen firsthand the devastating consequences of escalated conflicts.

The Lasting Impact of Unfair Encounters

These cases are truly heartbreaking. Someone, often the innocent party, simply trying to defend their rights, stands up for themselves, only to be severely harmed. While these are extreme examples, haven’t we all experienced situations where confronting unfairness escalated into a conflict that left us deeply upset, sometimes for days or even weeks? These experiences can have a lasting impact, making us hesitant to return to places or engage in activities where they occurred. They can shape us in negative ways, and I want to explore how we can avoid that.

Understanding Triggers

The second crucial point is that when someone reacts with rage, there’s often a trigger we’ve unknowingly or intentionally pulled. Take the example of someone cutting us off in traffic. Our instinctive reaction might be to honk or gesture out of fear and anger. While their actions were undoubtedly inappropriate, they might feel justified in their rage because of our response. They get out of their car, perhaps pounding on ours or even on us.

While their behavior is clearly unacceptable and harmful, it’s important to understand that they often feel justified in their anger. They believe we’ve done something wrong, even if they’re overlooking their own transgressions.

The Importance of Perspective

Obviously, they’re not focused on their own wrongdoing, only on what they perceive as our mistakes. This brings us to the second crucial point: triggers. We need to be mindful of how our actions might trigger others.

You might say, “But Dr. Puff, I want to trigger them! I’m angry!” We can trigger others, and most of the time, it won’t lead to a major issue. But occasionally, perhaps one out of a hundred or even a thousand times, we encounter someone with intense rage. That’s a traumatic experience that can lead to lasting PTSD and severely impact our mental well-being.

Choosing Peace Over Conflict

These rare but potentially devastating encounters raise the question: Do we really want to risk that kind of suffering? We don’t have to. It might feel like we’re not standing up for ourselves, but is there another way to approach these situations? Can we act with kindness, love, and patience instead of escalating the conflict?

Turning the other cheek, as Jesus taught, is truly one of the highest forms of human interaction. It’s a profoundly wise approach. Why do people get so angry? Because they believe they’re right. Even if we have a strong argument, it often doesn’t matter to them. While some people can be persuaded to see their error, others become defensive and lash out when challenged.

The truth is, in the moment of acting unfairly, they feel justified, even if it seems irrational. This doesn’t excuse their behavior but recognizing it can soften our own anger. Instead of seeing them as a jerk, we can consider that they might be having a terrible day and we were simply the last straw.

Realizing this can help us de-escalate the situation. Instead of confronting them head-on, we can try a gentler approach, asking questions like, “Did you mean to do that?” or “Is everything okay?” We don’t always have to confront people; sometimes, we can simply let it go or try to understand their perspective.

When someone, especially a stranger, gets angry at us, it’s often because they perceive that we’ve wronged them in some way. Here’s how it typically unfolds: they do something we find rude or unfair, we challenge them (even if it’s not aggressive), and they lash out, feeling justified in their anger and viewing us as the aggressor.

The Power of Letting Go

That’s why they lash out at us. So, what if instead of challenging people when they’re being unfair, we simply let it go?

Now, this might be a tough pill to swallow for some. You might be thinking, “Dr. Puff, are you suggesting I let people walk all over me?” No, but do we always need to be right, especially with strangers? Can we let things go and not worry about it?

Remember, if we challenge them, there’s a chance we might be dealing with someone prone to rage, and those encounters are incredibly upsetting. Additionally, it’s important to remember that they likely believe they’re justified in their actions, no matter how rude or unreasonable they seem to us. That’s why they get so angry when challenged.

So, what can help us? Recognizing that they believe they’re right, and questioning whether we need to challenge them. Did they cut in line? Do we need to say something? Maybe they didn’t even realize it. Is it necessary to confront them? Perhaps not, especially considering the potential for an emotionally charged and even traumatic encounter.

Focusing on Blessings

Focusing on our blessings can also be incredibly helpful. We are blessed in countless ways, while those who lash out in anger often lead difficult lives. Do we really need to add to their burdens? Do we need to challenge them over a minor infraction? Perhaps we can simply let it go, or even offer a smile.

The choice is ours: would we rather be right or have peace of mind? For me, peace of mind wins every time. I understand this can be challenging, especially when confronted with blatant unfairness. But perhaps we can pause and consider that they might be having a bad day, and our kindness could make a difference.

The Benefits of Choosing Kindness

Choosing not to engage, letting go of the need to always be right, and focusing on our blessings is a healthier way to navigate interactions with strangers. This approach has two major benefits:

  1. We contribute to a more positive environment by being kind and non-threatening.
  2. We don’t have to worry about triggering anger because we’re not confronting anyone.
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