It could be any day. Any ordinary day in London. On a bus. With a random slice of humanity jostling together. Heading home.
Last night I sat down on a crowded bus next to a big muscly man. He had to move his bag so I could sit down and wasn’t too happy about it.
Then he started muttering angrily. I couldn’t quite catch it to begin with. But the tone was annoyed and angry. ‘Shut your child up – don’t you know we’re all trying to get home from work.’ I hadn’t even noticed the child. But yes on the lower deck was an occasionally screaming child.
I felt a small wave of fear shiver through me. Should I move? Would he get angry with me next? He certainly could do some major harm with muscles like that.
But I’m just back from leading yet another beautiful retreat in Sweden. Ending the second 6 month Inner Leadership – Outer Change course there. This weekend the theme has been all about power. And standing in our true power. The shiver of fear didn’t last long. I quickly realised – how perfect an opportunity to practice in real life what we’d been sharing and exploring all weekend long!
So I tuned into this irritated man and asked myself – what were his needs? And it was obvious. He was tired. On his way home from a hard day’s work he was irritated by a screaming child. And when I’m super tired I get scratchy and irritable too. So I calmly sat there. Silently sending him the message ‘I know you’re tired and need to rest’. I was calm. I could feel enormous compassion for him. I wasn’t scared.
And at one point I caught the eye of another passenger who smiled and mouthed to me – ‘are you alright?’ I was touched by her concern but I was fine. I was sitting in the perfect place on the bus!
And gradually his irritated muttering shifted. As I hadn’t moved away in fear or retorted back in equal irritation I felt him calm a bit. He muttered something about his beard needing a shave. I tried to catch his eye but didn’t quite meet it.
We sat watching the world go by from the front seats at the top of the bus.
Then another passenger started talking about a new rental contract she’d found and he muttered something again. ‘Sounds like she’s ripping someone off’ he muttered. But this time I caught the thread. ‘Maybe’ I gently answered. And off he went – launching into a story of his friend who’d got ripped off leaving her boyfriend. She’d lost a lot of money leaving the rental contract early. And he wasn’t irritated now. He was telling me the story. We’d made contact! He was longing to simply speak!
So I sat and listened. He shared he didn’t like people talking about money or work on the bus. He was going home from work – didn’t want to think about it. Some irritation still there in his voice but he was warm too. Simply a tired fellow human being making his way home. Just like the rest of us.
And then he spotted scaffolding poles piled haphazardly on a truck. ‘They’re not good scaffolders – look at that mess’. And out came tales of his previous work as a scaffolder. How it was hard work and dangerous but in his view scaffolders were lazy. He didn’t share what his work was now but shared about other manual labour he’d done and compared different types of work. I mainly listened and nodded. Learning about his world. Listening with love.
And then he caught himself with a bit of a smile – ‘gosh there I was complaining about others speaking about work and here I am going on about work – I must be boring you’. ‘No – not at all’. And he wasn’t. I was thrilled to have connected. To have sat calmly and heard his need and through doing that to have felt no need to fear him. And here we were chatting away! He was a softie underneath all those muscles and hard armour!
And then it was time for me to get off the bus. On getting off I gently punched his big muscly arm. ‘Have a good rest mate’ I said on leaving. ‘You too – have a lovely evening’. We had connected human to human! He’d made my evening actually. What a precious gem - transcending fear to simply see the human underneath the irritation and anger. He’d wanted to be heard! To be seen – like all of us. And he needed a rest. I was thrilled I was able to convey that to him – ‘I see you. I hear you. Have a good rest mate’.
So I invite all of you – and me in future circumstances too – to see beyond the bluster, frustration, anger and irritation you may encounter in others around you. To remember there’s a fellow human being in there. With needs and feelings just like yours.
See them. Hear them. Connect to them. The angry scary man on the bus may just make your evening.