Responding to Other People’s Negative Emotions: Sometimes You’re Just Tree #4

Sometimes you’re just tree #4 in someone else’s life.  This anecdote from Bob Goff’s Everybody, Always, really struck me. I’m not the hero or the villain, I may just be tree #4, part of the scenery in someone else’s life. 

At the grocery store I asked the woman bagging if she could use paper bags for some of the groceries as well. She gave me a frustrated and irritated look and started taking the items out of the plastic bags.  I was surprised.  

“Oh, no.  You don’t have to do that. I just meant to use paper as well,” but she continued removing the items from plastic for the couple bags she’d started and finished bagging in paper. 

I could’ve been offended at her angry look and behavior, felt bad, or took it personally.  I could’ve let her behavior affect me and my day.

Instead, I reminded myself sometimes you’re just tree #4.  

She was clearly having a bad day and I hit a nerve by asking her to bag some groceries in paper as well.  Who knows what happened moments or hours before on her shift.  

Either way I’m a blip on her life radar of bigger issues, worries, and concerns. So why do I need to make it more than a blip on my own radar of life? I don’t.

Instead, I need to remind myself to love everybody, always, as Bob Goff demonstrates with gusto and humor in his book (which I highly recommend if you haven’t noticed).

This may look different for everyone.

You may say a prayer for this woman and peace in her day and circumstances.

You may smile at her and tell her I hope you have a better day.

Or you may just walk away, understanding that you’re just tree #4 and move on.

How to Live as Tree #4

Recognize the bigger perspective: 

Each character has his/her own concerns.  You may play a minor role in them.  That’s ok.

Even if you have a minor role, you can still have a big impact.  What would the play be like without scenery?  Blah.  Scenery adds vibrancy and context, for all those involved.

Even though we may have a minor role in a person’s life during our daily encounters, we can still have a big impact.

If we respond with anger in turn when someone else is angry or frustrated, now we both are upset and the situation has escalated.  Making a small moment into a bigger one with more weight and meaning.

If I go home offended or angry based on an incident with a person, now I may in turn unintentionally take out my negative emotions on the people I love.

If I choose calm and compassion, despite my emotions wanting to do otherwise as a defense mechanism, I may just help bring calm and positivity to another person’s life, just when they most need it.

Embrace being tree #4 in the lives of those you encounter.  Recognize your important part in the story that unfolds.  Sometimes you’ll play the leading role, sometimes the supporting role, and sometimes just tree #4.  

May you find comfort and empowerment in the various roles you play in your life.

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