I really didn’t want to share with you what you’re about to read.
Keep reading, and you’ll see why.
Even though all of my personal friends already know this story, I think that 90% of the people reading this probably don’t.
As they say, some stories just need to be told. And even though it might not seem like it at first, this story you’re about to read has a positive ending–I promise.
It’s actually in the ending where the real story begins.
The 4th of July “Fireworks”
Last month (on the 4th of July to be specific), I drove into a local West Los Angeles grocery store to pick up some food before I went for a quick morning workout.
I chose to stop at a very “upscale” grocery store on the way to my gym because I noticed that the parking lot was relatively empty, and it would be easy for me to grab my stuff and then get to the gym.
That’s when it happened.
As I was walking into the store, I noticed a very well-dressed blonde woman in her upper 40’s/low 50’s (I’m guessing) parked nearby in newer model BMW.
For some reason, her eyes were completely locked-in on me as I walked closer to the entrance to the store. You know that creepy feeling when you know that someone is staring at you? I felt it, so in order to break the awkwardness in my mind, I made eye-contact with her and smiled.
That’s when she rolled down her car window and said the following to me:
“Why are you going into that store, nigger? You know that you can’t afford anything inside of there. You need to go back to Africa and let us celebrate this country in peace, you filthy monkey. You niggers make me sick.”
Then she spit at me (and missed), and drove off.
In 39 years of life, I’ve definitely experienced plenty of racism, but nothing that was as in-my-face as this situation.
Did I fall into a time warp and get transported to the 1950’s deep south? I’m still living in the very progressive West Los Angeles area, and it’s still 2014, right?
So, why am I sharing this with you guys?
Is it because I want to make you aware that racism is alive and well in our country?
Nope, that’s not it. You already knew that anyway.
We need to dig so much deeper than that.
I want to talk about the response to this situation.
When I shared this unfortunate incident with some of my friends and coworkers, I noticed a very disturbing trend in their responses.
“Did you get her license plate number? You need to report her to the police and get her arrested!” (Me: Yeah, because I’m sure that the LAPD is going to deploy their resources to track down “name-callers” who hurl insults out of their car windows.)
“Dude, I hope that you cursed her out for disrespecting you like that.” (Me: What would that prove, exactly?)
“If that happened to me, I would have dragged that bitch out of her car and beat her ass in that parking lot.” (This one doesn’t even warrant a response.)
We really do have a long way to go with this positivity stuff, don’t we? Afterward, I couldn’t help but to feel a little down in the dumps about this situation.
I wasn’t sad for me, though.
Specifically, I’m sad for the people who will read this story, or experience something similar to it, and use it as an excuse to lose their faith in humanity, or worse, to become part of the problem that many of us are trying to solve.
I can promise you that I will never give away that kind of power to some random lady in a grocery store parking lot who I will never see again. That power is too precious, and she is not even within a million miles of deserving it.
So, what was my response to that woman in the parking lot?
There wasn’t one. I did absolutely nothing.
The Anchor: Values Over Emotions
I don’t expect everyone reading this to understand the critical point that I’m about to make, but if you do, I can promise you that it will change your life.
In fact, besides giving that woman a huge gift (or more accurately, giving that huge gift to myself), this concept was the one thing that gave me peace in that grocery store parking lot.
Here it is:
Always choose your values over your emotions.
This is pretty deep, and it’s important to fully understand this concept.
Here’s the sad truth about our emotions: If you allow them to take over the steering wheel of your life, they will happily drive you off the cliff on a near-daily basis.
Someone disrespects you? It’s time to curse that fool out and start acting ignorant.
Someone steps on your brand-new white sneakers in the nightclub? Get ready to beat his ass.
Someone verbally assaults you in a grocery store parking lot? Now, it’s really about to be on.
There’s a much better way, and it all starts with your values.
Your values are like an anchor that will always keep you grounded in sanity when your emotions are trying to do the opposite.
Personally speaking, here are the three values that keep me anchored in, always:
1) I will not allow another person to ever affect my happiness or steal my joy.
2) I always have the power to determine my reaction to anything.
3) I will always be the man that my mama and daddy raised me to be (yes, even as a grown-ass 39-year old man, this value will never change until the day I die.)
I cannot underestimate the power of having values, because they will “anchor you in” when the world consistently tries to mess with you. They will keep you sane when your emotions are urging you to act crazy. Most of all, they keep you in a position to always create positive outcomes even when you don’t believe that a positive outcome exists.
So, even when I was in the depths of the worst emotional burnout of my life last month, my values anchored me in when I needed them the most in that grocery store parking lot.
But enough about me. Now, it’s time for me to ask you a few personal questions:
What do you value?
What did your mama and daddy teach you?
If you’re parent reading these words, what values are you teaching your kids?
Marinate in that for a minute, and don’t come up for air until you fully know what you value.
Don’t Get it Twisted
I’m sure that there’s someone out there reading this and thinking, “oh okay…are you telling me that the positive response to someone treating you like crap is to do nothing?”
Unless you’re new here, you know me better than that, right? I’ve said it before on this blog, but I’ll happily say it again:
If you’re dealing with a bully at work, you need to stand up for yourself and your career.
If you have a toxic person in your life (and I don’t care who it is), you need to walk away and not look back.
If you’re allowing your significant other to treat you like a second-class citizen in your own home, you need to stop being a doormat and do something about it.
No, this isn’t about not responding to negativity, this is about how we respond to that negativity.
We need to do better than the pitiful response of dealing with disrespect by being even more disrespectful, or worse, dealing with all of our problems by “fighting fire with fire.” Seriously, have you ever seen a fireman run into a burning house with a flamethrower in his hand?
So, on July 4, 2014 when I was verbally attacked by a stranger, I didn’t curse her out. I didn’t attempt to “teach her a lesson” that she wasn’t willing to hear and wasn’t ready to learn. I didn’t throw rocks at her car as she cowardly drove away.
Instead (after mentally working through the initial shock that this actually just happened), I broke my eye-contact with her and kept walking into the store to get what I needed. In other words, I leaned on my values and used them to keep me anchored in.
In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a perfect record of doing this.
I’ve still slipped up numerous times and have said and done things that I’m not very proud of. The good news is that those instances are very rare these days, and it’s all because I clearly know what I value.
Best of all, my values make me strong by reminding me of my power.
Yes, you are the one with the power. You are the one who can choose your values over your emotions at any time. You are the one who can shine a light instead of making the world a darker place.
That’s why this story has a happy ending, because the power to create a more positive world is 100% up to us. And if you’re not aware–that power shines through in our responses to the things and people that aren’t so positive.
The only question is: Next time you’re challenged by those things, what will your response be?
How do you keep it together in the face of rudeness, disrespect, or outright hostility? Are you driven more by your values or your emotions? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!