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What We Control

We were waiting in line to check out books at the library, and my daughter was passing time by walking backward in a straight line, pretending she was on a balance beam. The only problem was, her imaginary balance beam went directly into a woman who was waiting to speak to a librarian. Bump. My daughter turned around, looked up, made perfect eye contact and said, “I’m very sorry for running into you. Are you okay?”

I looked over and smiled. I was proud of my little one – who has been building these skills of grace and courtesy – for making eye contact, being respectful and asking if the woman was okay. I couldn’t wait for my daughter’s beautiful response to be recognized and appreciated by this woman.

Instead, the woman scowled. She scrunched up her lips, narrowed her eyes and bared her teeth. “You need to learn to walk the right way,” the woman snarled. “This is a library, not a circus.”

“I will watch where I’m going. I am very sorry,” my daughter repeated. 

“You should be,” the woman said, continuing to scowl.

My daughter’s eyes filled with tears. I bent down and told her I appreciated the way she had apologized for her actions and tried her best to make it right. We talked about how it feels bad when someone keeps responding in an angry way even when you’ve done the very best apologizing you know how to do.

When we bump into people, we do our best to repair the bumps with apologies and amends. Yet, people sometimes react in ways that are unexpected, unnecessary or exaggerated. We may expect a particular response, but we don’t always get the reaction we think we should. 

The library has all sorts of wisdom inside. Today, it gave us an important lesson in what we can and cannot control.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.