From the Left



It's Up To You to See the Good Happening Around You

Susan Estrich on

In traffic downtown, the man next to me wanted to get over in my lane. I slowed up a little and let him in. His hand went out the window, and I lifted mine to return what I anticipated was an incoming obligatory thank-you wave. Instead, he extended his middle finger. This threw me off until I saw the car in front of him return the gesture. The car in front of me had declined to let him over.

The man had a choice in that moment, and he decided to focus on the negative. He chose to react to the disregard he felt from the other vehicle, instead of responding in gratitude to the kindness I had extended.

It sums up how I'm feeling about humanity these days, and I know I'm guilty of it too. We're coming out of midterm elections and transitioning to the season of gratitude and holiday cheer. We're shifting from hateful super PAC campaign ads to counting our blessings for Thanksgiving. It's an odd juxtaposition that feels disingenuous, even though in both circumstances, we have a choice in how to respond to the world around us.

We get to decide how to behave and what is worthy of a response. I can either zero in and focus on everything I perceive as wrong, or I can look for the good.

I get a lot of hate mail in my job, and most of the hate stems from assumptions made and readers assigning ill intent when there is none. And no, it's not a trait that can be pinned to one side of the political aisle. It's a mindset, not a value set.

It's OK to reflect and it's OK to sit with bad moments and feel your feelings. Ignoring or avoiding feelings is not healthy either.

But do you spend your days focusing on the good or on what annoys you?

Did you really have a whole bad day? Or did you have a bad five minutes that you allowed to contaminate the rest of your day by ruminating on whatever happened?


Feel all the feels and then move forward.

In relationships, at work or home, be aware of the assumptions you make inside your head. Social scientist Brene Brown calls this "the story we tell ourselves."

My husband and I try to use this as a prompt to discuss how we're feeling. When we get irritated or upset with the other person in our relationship, we say something like, "The story I'm telling myself right now is that you have time for everyone else but not me." Then we talk about it together and truly identify the feelings attached to that inside story we're telling ourselves.

Assumptions are powerful and something that each of us can control, or at least challenge when we recognize we're making one. The man who chose to flip off the other driver instead of waving to thank me made an assumption about a stranger on the road. He assigned ill intent and allowed that to anger him. We don't know what's happening in the next car and we have no idea what that individual is dealing with.

Hopefully next time, he'll see the good in front of him and choose to wave. I hope you do, too.

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