People You Meet

I am a big believer that there is something special and unique that I can learn from every single experience I encounter in my life.

What do you think?

We can probably agree that some experiences are stronger than others and seem much more important or powerful, but believing that every single experience has something to teach us, perhaps you might think that could be going too far.

I might have felt that way at one time in my life but when I slow down and shift my perspective to a moment-to-moment framework something else happens. I see a wealth of meaning and connection.

It would probably help if I offered an example.

My wife and I recently went to Florida for twelve days of sunny, warm vacation. We arrived at our local airport, got our boarding passes, checked our bags, made our way through TSA and were sitting at our designated gate, awaiting boarding. There were lots of people milling around and most seats were full. Some of the flights were delayed, causing some annoyance to several passengers.

My wife and I sat down, storing our carry-on items in the empty seat between us. When the man next to her got up and headed toward the gate where boarding was starting, I decided to change my seat and took over his vacated space.

Despite my belief that he was boarding the plane, he must have been throwing something out, because he returned a moment or two later. Once he observed that I had taken his seat, he leaned toward me and said, “that’s my seat, sport!”, in what I would term a somewhat threatening voice and posture, leaving no doubt in my mind that he expected me to get up and relocate, so that he could have ‘his’ seat back.

Without giving it any thought, I stood up and changed back to where I had been sitting. However…I confess to feeling stung by his words and gestures, especially his use of the term ‘sport’. It reeked of condescension.

Part of me immediately went into hostile mode and wanted to know what right he had to speak to me in that manner or to demand ‘his’ seat back. There was no sign on it. He hadn’t left an open magazine there to claim his spot. He didn’t say to us, “I’ll be right back, could you save my seat for me?”. Nothing.

Another part of me wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was having a really bad day. Maybe his flights had been messed up and he’d had to sleep overnight in the airport. Maybe his use of the term ‘sport’ wasn’t intended to ruffle or irritate me.

A third part of me wished I’d stayed where I was and told him he had no claim to the seat. No ownership. No rights. And, by the way, “who are you calling ‘sport’, sport!?”

There was yet another part of me operating during this sequence. I’ll call it my ‘inner observer’. It’s the part of me that takes notice of my thoughts and actions. It invites me to step back for a moment to consider. It encourages me to see if there is a bigger picture operating. And it asks valuable questions like, why is this triggering you and is it necessary or helpful for you to take this personally?

When I allow my observer to take center stage I see, hear, sense, and understand more. My observer also aids me in releasing my initial thoughts and reactions. I can let go of my what does not serve or benefit me. I can release my ‘possession’ of the seat and allow his comment and tone to pass through me. I can set aside my personal reactions and ownership of being triggered by his manner or expectations.

This ten second ‘connection’ between us can inform my whole world and leave a lasting impact on me. The choice is mine to decide. Not his nor anyone else’s. Mine.

What I take away from this or any other single connection I form with another is entirely up to me. That’s a powerful thing and I can choose to carry with me all of the hurtful or all of the helpful feelings that go with it.

I believe everyone can do this.

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