I had an interesting experience at my children's school this week. About six months ago, a crazy father was driving his car half on the sidewalk at a fast speed, along the road into the school. I was shocked and had a slight altercation with him, telling him his driving was ridiculous and dangerous. Two days ago, I was walking along the road into the school, actually a foot or so on to the road because the pavement was full of kids, and I see this same guy sitting at the wheel of his car about 10 metres in front me. He glares at me, starts up the engine and speeds past me at a ridiculous speed, so close to me that the car almost brushes my coat. It was obvious he did it intentionally, in revenge, to try to scare me. I instinctively lashed out at the car with my son's school bag as it went by. I contacted the police and they told me I should get his licence plate number and they would go round and talk to him.
This morning I was walking up to the school gate with my kids and the guy gets out of his car and walks up to me. I knew he was going to confront me, and for some reason I smiled. 'Next time I'm going to run you over,' he said to me.
'You nearly ran me over two mornings ago,' I said.
Then his manner suddenly changed, became less confrontational. 'I'm not going to be nasty, because you smiled.'
'Did I?' I wasn't even aware that I had.
'I shouldn't have done it,' he said. 'I shouldn't have tried to tease you, by putting my foot down so hard. I won't do it again.'
'Okay - let's just stop it there then,' I said.
He put his hand on my shoulder, and for some reason - without thinking about it - I put an arm around him.
How strange! It shows how powerful a smile can be - and how quickly conflict can turn to empathy, if you approach it with a non-confrontational attitude.
Conflict usually only arises when two people have the desire for conflict. Often, if one person meets aggression with benevolence and empathy, the tension dies away, like a flame with no more fuel. Conflict arises from separation, and a simple gesture of empathy creates an immediate bond. There is a shift from being adversaries to allies, from rivals to fellows. It's very difficult to hurt anyone who you feel empathy towards - and conversely, it's easy to hurt someone who you don't feel any empathy towards. And because human beings - apart from psychopaths and narcissists perhaps - are naturally empathic, we usually respond in kind to expressions of empathy. As the Buddha said 2500 years ago, ‘Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.’
I'm still going to look out for the guy’s crazy driving though.
Steve Taylor is a lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He is the author of Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of the Human Mind. Eckhart Tolle has called his work 'an important contribution to the shift in consciousness happening on our planet at this time.' stevenmtaylor.co.uk
Follow Steve on Facebook
Follow Steve on Twitter