It’s astonishing how little it takes to turn my day around.
Yesterday I got a text from a friend who, like me, recently moved from the US to Alberta. She’d been catching up on my blog, and had just read “Bureaucratic Nightmares, Take 3.”
“Oh, man!” she texted. “I can totally relate to not wanting to leave the house or do anything because everything is a confrontation.”
Here’s her list for today: call Telus to dispute an overcharge, follow up on an overdue medical referral, return defective prescription eye glasses, and find a plumber and contractor to repair drywall damaged by a plumbing leak.
Then she asked the six-million-dollar question: “Was it this hard for us in the States or just since moving here?”
My answer? No. It was absolutely not this hard in the States. Americans are spoiled and loud — we don’t put up with the shoddy workmanship and non-existent customer service that seems prevalent here in Canada.
Canadians complain about these issues to each other, but it’s kind of like kids whining about summer camp food. It’s more a bonding experience than an attempt to make changes.
Fighting for change is too much like confrontation, and good Canadians avoid confrontation at all costs. After all, it isn’t polite.
But when we accept lousy service over and over, because we’re polite, and tolerate obnoxious behavior again and again (and again and again!), our feelings of injustice, annoyance, and hurt smolder and burn. Eventually, they break out in unexpected ways, like road rage (I include myself here because I’m falling into the trap).
One of the unexpected issues I’m dealing with after moving into the city is the number of interactions I have every day, especially the number of negative interactions.
I’ve lived in rural areas for most of my adult life and for thirteen consecutive years before moving to Canada. I do better in the country.
I think it’s related to being a Highly Sensitive Person and an Empath. I love people, but each interaction takes a toll on me. I have a much bigger than average need for solitude. That’s one reason I looked so hard for a house on a large lot, with lots of big trees and a sense of seclusion and privacy.
But when I was considering the move, there were two pieces of information I missed.
- I thought I’d be putting the kids on a school bus every day from my front door. I didn’t realize Edmonton schools don’t run buses for children past Grade 6, and that the city bus would not have a decent route for my kids, hence I’d be driving them to and from school every day.
- I failed to realize just how many aggressive drivers one can run into in two kilometers of busy city streets.
My sixty minutes of driving often deplete my daily allotment of Interaction Energy (yep, I made up the phrase). On a particularly rough day, when I get home, I just want to hide alone in my nice, safe, quiet home and have no contact whatsoever with anyone.
Apparently I’m not alone. My friend calls those interactions, “DAYS,” for “Daily Assaults on Your Self.” She says it’s a reminder that we deal with a constant barrage of everyday crap, and that’s why self care is so important.
You already know I’m not very good at self care. Especially combined with financial stress, health worries, family crises, and sleep deprivation.
But this morning a stranger in a white sedan brought the sun out for me.
We were in the right lane, stopped at a red light. She was in front of me, going straight, and I was waiting to turn right. I had a right turn lane, but I was a few feet short of it.
It was OK. I wasn’t in a hurry, and the music on my iPod was great. “Soon Love Soon” by Vienna Teng.
The driver ahead of me realized the situation, though, and she pulled forward and as far to the left of our lane as she could, so I could squeeze by her car and be on my way.
As I inched past (moving very slowly and carefully), I waved to acknowledge her thoughtfulness.
She looked directly at me and smiled. She was a lovely woman — dark complected (in the US, I would have called her African-American, but I don’t know what the respectful term is in Canada) with a bright white smile that shone in the dimness of her car. A genuine smile.
I arrived home energetic and happy, all because of a stranger’s smile. You see, it’s only the negative interactions that deplete me. Positive interactions can contribute to that Interaction Energy bank.
One of the most powerful lines in the Vienna Teng song that was playing is, “We will know that the fate of one is the fate of all.”
But I think in the end, it’s the most important message. The only message.