Empathy As An Antidote For Life's Minor Frustrations

By Minji

"...Instead of thinking that the universe is conspiring against me by throwing an unreasonable parking attendant my way, I can tell myself a different more uplifting story, and believe that the universe is conspiring with me...maybe so that we can all help this guy make it on time to his daughter’s school play."         

Even if it can be challenging for my skincare routine, I love my hot yoga class – I love the instructors, I love the vibe and the energy, I love how it makes be feel recharged afterwards, I even like the location – only a 10-minute drive usually with no traffic.  There’s one thing that I can’t stand about it though and it’s the parking situation.  Their parking validation machine is often broken and it drives me crazy.  It’s super annoying when you’re drenched in sweat to have to argue with the parking attendant regarding who’s right or wrong to have an invalidated parking ticket.  

I’ve had to do this a few times already, but a few days ago, it was the worst.  Not only did it take extra time to explain, argue for a bit and finally get out, this time he made me walk all the way back to the studio and pick up evidence of my class attendance…despite the fact that at the studio, they had a message proudly displayed noting that all you would need to do is tell the parking attendant you were at yoga. I tried to explain this to him.  I pointed out my appearance - drenched in sweat in yoga clothes. I tried waving my yoga mat his way.  But he wasn't budging and in the battle of wills, he won and I ended up having to re-park my car, walk back, get what he wanted, then drive my car back to him and finally be able to get out of there.

It was frustrating to say the least, but the worst part about it was the negative energy vibes I felt circling my body afterwards.  The thing that keeps bringing me back to yoga is the positive after effects it has not only on by body but my mind, heart, soul…and energy levels. This frivolous yet frustrating exchange was enough to wipe that out and I felt worse leaving yoga then I did at the start of class. 

As I immersed myself in this thought, I realized the only thing I could change was my attitude and approach to the situation.  As hard as I may try, there’s no way I’m fixing the validation machine or changing the parking attendant.  I thought about how I felt about my position – even after a cool down period, I didn’t feel I was acting unreasonably.  I had carefully followed the instructions given to me by the studio and had done nothing wrong.  Then I thought about the parking attendant’s position.  When I thought about this from my shoes, he was clearly being unreasonable.  But once I actively started thinking about the situation from his perspective…I could see how he might’ve been acting reasonably as well.  What if, for every ticket that he doesn’t have proof for, he has to fill out a report after work that’s a huge hassle and could possibly make him late to his daughter’s school play that night? As soon as I thought this, it made me want to run back to the studio and help him out.  Remembering to exercise the tiniest bit of empathy made my frustrations melt away and I was slowly back to good vibes.

This small episode reminds me of the importance of empathy, giving people the benefit of the doubt and constructive stories.  Instead of thinking that the universe is conspiring against me by throwing an unreasonable parking attendant my way, I can tell myself a different more uplifting story, and believe that the universe is conspiring with me so that we can all help this guy make it on time to his daughter’s school play.  The next time life throws me another minor yet frustrating curve ball, I’ll have to remember to channel my efforts towards coming up with some really cool optimistic stories – for both my “opponent,” my energy levels and my entire day.