Something happened to me a couple of weeks ago: one of these small occurrences which at a second glance has the depth of changing one’s perspective on life. As I was taking a turn on my bike, I collided with another bicyclist. Thankfully, it was a minor collision as we both managed to break in time. What followed, though, made me cry all the way home.
When the first scare was over, we started yelling at each other. Both of us had our arguments what the other had done wrong and in the end, the man capped it with a “f*** you” to which I responded in like (not my best moment), and we rode our separate ways.
It took me about two seconds to start crying because that’s when my brain, or perhaps my heart, caught up. I realized that I had made a little tear in my soul, and it hurt so bad! We’ve all been in situations when blood boils and our tongues get overly active. And I realized that in these moments of anger when we are capable of saying many not-to-be-proud-of things, we don’t feel what’s happening inside of us. But the day of the collision, I was more scared than angry and I swore back at the man mostly out of obligation: if he says it to me, I’ll say it to him (great logic, right?). And because I wasn’t actually angry, I felt what behaving as I did, did to me.
I felt awful. I felt like I’ve hurt my soul. And for the first time in my life, I understood what turning the other cheek means. Up to now, as much as I saw the nobility in this phrase, I could never figure out if it’s something to actually do. To me, it felt too much like showing weakness. I didn’t want to display humility in the face of people who had the audacity to hurt me. But that day, I understood that turning the other cheek is not an act of weakness or sacrifice, and not merely an act of strength, but an act of self-preservation, of keeping your inner fiber intact.
In my eyes, a practice in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions called ahimsa overlaps to some extent with turning the other cheek. Ahimsa is about respecting all living things and avoiding violence (meant in very broad terms) towards others. In the end, verbal abuse is violence too. I’m now a firm believer in that any act of aggression hurts our core. Sadly, in the heat of the moment, we don’t notice the little bruises to our essence.
I don’t advocate letting being hurt. On the contrary. I understand turning the other cheek as not allowing being hurt more than you already were. Because, said plain and simple, being mean to others, even when it seems they’ve earned it, ultimately hurts you. And I also don’t advocate not reacting to injustice being done to you. But there are reactions and reactions. I didn’t have to swear back at the man. Sometimes, no reaction is also a reaction and, at that, an eloquent one too. On some level, we’re angry with the people that hurt us not only because of what they did to us but also because of what they made us do in return. Or rather, what we allowed ourselves to do in return (let’s not push all the responsibility away: at the core of many conflicts is this orphaned responsibility that no one wants to claim).
In retrospect, I wish I had instead thanked the man for holding my weight so I didn’t fall because that’s what he did before we started arguing. But I guess, there are some situations in life that we need to go through and even mess up to learn a lesson.
Image from Pablo