When high drama erupted in the swimming pool during the morning rush-hour, I was reminded of an ancient proverb from Rabbi Hillel, “In the place where there is no humanity, strive thou to be human.” Even with ear plugs and goggles, I detected significant turbulence in the raised voice and frenetic arm gestures of an irritated person trying to join the swim lane. A patient lifeguard unsuccessfully tried to assuage the frazzled nerves of this irritated person, explaining that the maximum number of people were already in the lane. That was when fireworks erupted.
I was determined to stay calm and focused during the last ten minutes of my swim while the temperature was rising on the pool deck. Yet I couldn’t help wondering if there was something I could do to help diffuse the situation. As a recovering people pleaser, I knew that offering to give my spot to the agitated person was surely overkill. Instead I decided to do something more appropriate. I conveyed a quick and compassionate signal to the flustered lifeguard. As I approached the end of the lane, I smiled and waved to her and touched my hand to my heart. She smiled and nodded, her shoulders relaxing as she silently mouthed a heartfelt “thank you.” Both of us were respectful of the feelings of the agitated person by not rolling our eyes at her or signaling any type of annoyance or irritation. When deciding to do something in this type of situation, it’s important not to diminish the integrity of someone else in the process by shaming them, even when we don’t condone how they are acting. The caveat to that is when we witness someone doing something dangerous or hateful to another person.
When someone doesn’t feel seen, heard, or respected, it can trigger a lot of frustration and elevate an already charged interaction. Conversely, when people are made to feel like they belong and are heard, they’re going to feel like their voice matters and this can help to deescalate the situation.
It’s also important to remember that while we may be able to observe the exterior realities of other peoples’ lives, we may never fully appreciate or know what’s actually going on in their thoughts and internal lives. It’s so easy to stay on the surface and judge people, but that only creates more distance and dissention. instead, “In the place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.”
When we all recognize our common humanity, we are more open to choosing from a myriad of small and large actions to turn down the dissonance for ourselves and others.
I’m sending you strength and love.
Soaringwords is the power to heal.