"Don't talk to Angry People."
When I leave to go on a trip somewhere without my partner, one of the things he always says to me is, "Don't talk to angry people." The following story is one of the incidents that led to him needing to say this. . .
It’s a dark night in San Francisco in 2012. My husband and I are riding our bikes home from work and it’s windier than the Hundred Acre Wood on a blustery day.
As we approach Crissy Field, I’m pedaling hard in my neon yellow jacket, with a spot light on my head, and suddenly I hear my husband scream “Oh s**t!” I glance over as he swerves out of the way just in time to miss a jogger, dressed in all black.
As my husband and I slow down to catch our breath and our wits, I hear the “pat pat pat” of feet running on pavement. I look behind me and the jogger is sprinting towards my husband.
“Honey go!!!” I yell as I push him towards pedaling.
My husband quickly takes off pedaling, and I start to follow, but I’m soon overwhelmed by the burning in my thighs and the damn wind, so I stop to chat to the angry jogger who is currently screaming after my husband. . . “You a**hole, you nearly ran me over.”
I dismount from my bike. I don’t have time for this. I need to get home and relax, and this jogger, and the wind, are now between me and a glass of red wine.
“Sir!” I say with as much authority as I can muster, “It’s okay. Everyone’s fine. We obviously didn’t see you.”
“He nearly killed me that (insert many swear words)….”
The yelling continues so I say louder and with more emphasis, “SIR, please calm down, we weren’t trying to hurt you. We just didn’t see you. Just keep on running. You’ll feel better...”
That was logical. Exercise relieves stress right? This guy needed some stress relief.
After a few minutes he gives up screaming every expletive in the english language at my husband, and runs off in the other direction.
My husband rolls his eyes at me and sighs as I catch up. “Honey next time some stranger wants to beat me up, do me a favor and run away with me?”
“What!?!” I say, still annoyed about the wind and further commute. “I called him SIR twice and he calmed down.”
This little incident would qualify as "classic Laurie" in my husband's book. We still argue if that occurrence was due to my deep need to mediate conflict, or because I was simply too lazy to get on my bike and out-pedal the screaming runner.
There are many stories that involve me throwing my body between two people who are about to come to blows. It's happened in sports games, post road-rage, and once when I was picking up new glasses at an Optometrists' office where a yelling match between two customers was escalating and everyone was just staring.
I’ve always been the peacemaker in my circles; through my parent’s divorce, with my friends, with my family who range from staunch pro-military republicans, to young libertarians, to socialist hippie vegans.
This is why I decided to create content and to share a bit of myself and my peacemaking journey, so that it might make a difference for those who read it and so that it might give people new insights. The Listening Willow is about listening, and about how and why we don't listen. It's about being willing to pause and consider another perspective.
I like practicing standing in other people’s shoes, even when it's hard. I think it’s the most underutilized tool in a human beings’ toolbox. We are capable of a lot as humans - great technological advances, putting people in space, exploring lost civilizations, etc. But one of the important capacities we humans have, compassion and empathy, is sometimes the most difficult to actually practice. Compassion is a simple but not always easy practice.
Marcel Proust said “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes, in seeing the universe with the eyes of another, of hundreds of others, in seeing the hundreds of universes that each of them sees.”
That is one of the goal's of the Listening Willow. To remind us that we all possess the ability to understand and appreciate where another human being is coming from, to see things from another perspective, even if we don’t agree with that perspective. We can still hear that person. We can still appreciate differences. We can still stand in their shoes and get curious about what's going on for them. And we can become bigger people with a greater capacity for making a difference by doing this.