A few weeks ago, on a rainy day, I came out of the subway turnstile at 72nd Street. I was following a guy out one of the doors when he stopped suddenly, right there in the doorway — because of the rain, I guess. I gave him what I thought was a gentle “keep it moving” tap on the shoulder and he turned around angrily and said, “Don’t touch me.” Annoyed, I said, “Well, don’t block the doorway.” And then we stood and glared at each other like two pit bulls.
When I mentioned it to a laid back friend to see what he would have done, he said, “I would have just gone out a different door.” Oh. Really? I could have just let the guy’s inconsiderate behavior go unchecked!? Mind-boggling.
That’s when it hit me: I have so many rules for what people should and shouldn’t do in public. Out and about, I have a constant inner commentary and the ability to pass instant judgment on the behavior I encounter: cutting in front of me on the sidewalk (“Would you drive like that?), eating McDonald’s on the subway (“You’re smelling up the whole car!”) and, of course, texting while walking (“Watch where you’re going!”).
Um, Who’s Really Suffering
What I realized is that I was often walking around in a state of irritation, feeling personally slighted somehow — my fight-or-flight instinct set off by what I saw as a lack of fairness — especially since I was following the rules (well, as I saw them).
All the judging and making others “wrong” when they didn’t do things the way I thought they should was somehow my way of feeling in control and yet, I was the only one suffering. I was the only one being affected negatively. That didn’t make any sense.
So, inspired by a Little Caesar’s Pizza ad, my new mantra is: “No rules.”
And it always applies — no “ifs”, “ands” or exceptions. Somebody texting as they walk up the stairs: “No rules!” Talking too loudly, walking too slowly, standing too close in kickboxing? “No rules!”
Sure, some days are an ostinato of “no rules, no rules, no rules.” But it interrupts the loop of judgment-resentment-frustration, and I’ve been able to exchange a huge, self-imposed burden for a lighter, more carefree experience of the exact, same world.