Own it… or don’t

Kari Swanson

I saw a video on Facebook of a woman who was in a parking lot having just gone through a drive through and she was videoing herself. She had just experienced another woman getting enraged with her while in the drive-through line. She shared that this woman was making gestures with her hands, and most likely a particular finger, and yelling and screaming in her car towards the woman who was in front of her. The woman videoing herself explained that she had choices at that particular time in which she saw the woman behind her enraged. She said that she could have gotten out of her vehicle and approached the woman behind her which she reported most likely would not have gone well for either woman. Instead, this woman shared that she continued to drive to the window to pay for her food and in addition, she paid for the woman behind her. Yes, she paid for the woman who was making all kinds of gestures at her and yelling at her. Wow. What would have been your first impulse? Would you have considered paying for this woman’s food?

I was so touched by this story and listened to the woman who made this choice. She explained that she could have easily engaged negatively with this woman who was obviously having a bad day and then she, herself, most likely would have had a bad day. She could have ignored this woman and allowed her bad day to continue, or she could do an act of kindness in which both women benefitted.

This woman chose not to “own” the other woman’s bad day. The woman who was upset, was she truly upset with the driver ahead of her? Most likely, no. She might have just come from a meeting at her child’s school that didn’t go well, she might have had a fight with her significant other, she might have received difficult news from a Doctor about a loved one or herself, she might have received a call from work about a project due that she didn’t have done. We don’t know what people are experiencing. We have no idea why people are in good moods or why they are in bad moods. When we choose to join someone’s bad mood we are investing in that bad mood with them. We are, in part, agreeing to own that bad mood with them. We have no idea why they are in a bad mood but since they are including us by yelling at us in a drive-through line or being rude to us in a store, we have decided that we will join them and be in a bad mood ourselves. Sounds kind of silly when I say it like that doesn’t it? That’s what we are doing.

I often say to clients when they are fixated on a problem involving someone else that is mad at them, “are you owning this”? This sometimes jolts them from their fixation and they are confused by the question. Someone is mad at you. Someone is taking out their frustrations on you. You can own it by wading in their muck with them or you can tell yourself that this is not mine to own, move on or say or do something kind to the other person. When you choose to own a problem that is not yours to own, therefore, not yours to solve, you are going to struggle with how to make that make sense and guess what? It’s not going to make sense because it is not yours to fix. Now, if you have had a conflict with someone and there is a part that you need to own then, by all means, you need to own that and figure out how to make it right. It may be as simple as taking responsibility for saying something that hurt someone and apologizing.

Do you own situations that you don’t have a part of? This could be family situations that don’t involve you, work situations that don’t involve you or peer relationship issues that have nothing to do with you. We see this a lot in youth. Barb doesn’t like Sue and I like Barb so, therefore, I’m not going to like Sue. You just owned Barb’s dislike of Sue and Sue hasn’t done anything to you to warrant that.

The next time you find yourself struggling about a situation ask yourself “what in this situation is mine to own”? If the answer is nothing, then move on. Don’t create more chaos by trying to insert yourself into someone else’s upset or issues. If there is a part that you need to own, own it. Say it out loud and claim your part. Make amends if you can. Forgive yourself if necessary. Move on. Find peace. We tend to make things bigger and messier when we join ownership with others in their upsets, frustrations or worries. Help others with the struggles they may be having, but don’t stir the pot with them to the point that no solution is offered. Kindness heals and helps. Remember the woman in the drive through that made the choice to be kind instead of joining anger or doing nothing.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.