You’re getting warmer

Dad had a lot of great stories. He had wonderful, interesting friends and clients and they said and did interesting things. I don’t remember who was involved in this particular story, but someone told him how excited he and his wife were about their new electric blanket. (This was long enough ago that electric blanket acquisition was a big deal.)

Anyway, the guy with the new dual control blanket said they put it on the bed and were ready for the snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug effect to set in. He turned up his control and waited. But he got colder! Then his wife said: “I keep turning down the control and it’s getting hotter in here!” After considering this curious state of affairs, they realized they had somehow put the blanket on the bed upside down and therefore their controls were controlling the other person’s side of the bed! He was cold, so he turned up his control, but that raised the temperature on her side and she got warmer so she turned her control down making his side less and less warm, so he’d turn his control up more…. Get the picture?

I’ve been thinking about this great tale for decades and “the moral of the story” finally struck me.

How much control do we have over another person? Actually, none. We have control over our own behavior and while that can influence others’ behavior, theirs is really is out of our control.

Have you heard people say: “He/she made me so mad!” ? That’s really inaccurate. What really happens is that the other person behaves a certain way and we respond with anger. We could choose to respond other ways, couldn’t we?

I used to drive from the Falconer area to Warren every day for work. One day when I was just a little behind my self-imposed schedule, a silver Subaru station wagon pulled out in front of me at the Akeley intersection, dangerously close. OK, I may have been going 58.5 mph, a little faster than the guy thought, but still, it “made me angry” when he slowed me down. THEN HE PULLED INTO THE DINER A COUPLE HUNDRED YARDS DOWN THE ROAD! IF HE HAD THE LUXURY OF TIME TO STOP FOR BREAKFAST, WHY DID HE NEED TO PULL OUT IN FRONT OF ME AND IMPINGE ON MY TRAVEL TIME???!!! Yet there are other times in heavy traffic situations when I wave other people to go ahead in front of me. See, I can choose either response or, for that matter, no response. I chose to be angry in the first example and chose to be helpful in the second.

It’s tempting to say: “Well, sometimes I’m in a hurry and sometimes I’m not….” But I’m not ever in such a hurry that the few seconds’ delay the bozo in the Subaru caused would make a difference.

I can think of times when people have said or done something that “made me angry”, like pulling out in front of me in traffic. Then there are times when the same experience doesn’t bother me at all. It can be the same causative action with completely different results. And the reason it turns out differently is because of my choice of response.

A good question to ask ourselves is whether the situation will make any difference in a day, a week, a month, a lifetime…. When it comes to anger-producing situations, many are over really quickly. The anger should dissipate just as quickly!

I have to admit, though, that every time I approach the Akeley intersection, even after 15 or so years, I get this little twinge of something. What is that? Anticipatory anger! Pretty crazy, isn’t it? But that’s a good example of what happens when emotions take charge instead of realistic thoughts.