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How I handle everyday encounters with rude people

Publisher, editor-in-chief and author at Chicken Soup for the Soul.

When my kids were little, they fought a lot. I made a rule that they each had to stand on a piece of furniture if they wanted to argue. So there they were, my son on one chair, my daughter on another, and they would inevitably burst out laughing at how silly they looked and the argument would die a natural death.

I'm no longer mediating disputes between my children, so my anger management strategies are now focused on my own life. I don't know its origin, but there is a great quote that says, "For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness."

Getting angry always makes me feel bad, so I try to keep those feelings under control. One of the strategies that works for me is remembering not to take things personally. When people behave badly, are rude to you, ignore you, do mean things to you, it's not usually about you. It's about them. I try to keep that in mind when I am surprised by someone's behavior.

So when I encounter a rude cashier at a store, I remind myself that she's not being rude to me specifically. She just hates her job, or is worried about something in her life, but she really doesn't care enough about me to manufacture her rudeness just for me. I tell myself to get over it. It's not about me.

I'm not a saint, though. Revenge is still appealing! Here's what I tell myself when I am confronted by a real jerk: "He is stuck with being himself." That is the best revenge, isn't it? I am not that unhappy, unpleasant person who was just rude to me. I get to be me, not him.

The Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenny said it best: "He who angers you conquers you." If you react to that rude person, and you become unhappy too, you have let him win. And you will then transfer that unhappiness to someone else.

The kids are grown now, so as an empty nester I get to practice my anger management theories on my husband instead. Lucky him! Since it drives me crazy when he complains about the other drivers on the road, we have a new rule. Every time he wants to complain about another driver he has to say something nice about that person instead. My husband has resorted to blowing kisses at the offending drivers. It's really funny to watch him exclaim, "I love you, minivan driver from New Jersey," and then blow kisses in the minivan's direction. But it redirects his emotions and we laugh instead of getting steamed up. As Alan Alda said, "When people are laughing, they're generally not killing each other."

Enjoy more laughter, enjoy this story, "Laughter Is the Purrfect Medicine."

Image: Todor Tsvetkov/Getty Images
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