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“This is a gel Sir. And you’re not allowed to take more than 3.4 ozs of gel on board,” said the security officer as I avoided his gaze. I could feel the irritation rising up within me. After all, I had gone through several airport security checkpoints with said gel and had never been questioned. Now this bozo was “doing his job” and taking away my expensive hair gel.

“Then why was ….” I stopped myself. “Never mind,” I said and focused on his continuing rummage through my toiletries. He finished and told me I could go. As I repacked my things I was aware of the familiar tenseness in my body. That rigidity that comes from being angry or really irritated at some perceived injustice. Then I remembered a discussion I had with my friend Natalie only the night before.

We were discussing our reactions to things that go wrong when we’re in nature vs. when we’re among people (in man-made settings). We both acknowledged how angry we tend to get when another human being does something “stupid” or “irresponsible” like cut us off in traffic. Contrast that reaction to the reaction we have when something goes wrong in nature, particularly when it’s nature who is the perpetrator.

For example, you’re hiking up a trail and discover a landslide blocking your path. How do you react? Natalie and I both agreed that in that situation we just deal with it. Turn around, find another path etc. We do not get angry at the landslide.

I do not have a lot of experience camping but I know lots of campers, and I expect that their reaction to things that thwart their intentions in nature are markedly different from their reactions to things that thwart their intentions when they’re back in the city.

I prefer the nature reaction myself. Getting irritated, angry or otherwise upset solves nothing except ruin relationships and damage my health. In extreme situations people do physical harm to each other. And for what? A tube of hair gel? A raised eyebrow or middle finger?

In any given situation, or moment in time, people will do what they do. Their actions and responses are beyond your control. Just like a landslide occurring or the rain falling. When I think of it that way I realize it’s just as inappropriate to get upset with the guy that cuts me off in traffic as it is to get upset at the landslide. I just take the appropriate action to honor my original intent – get to work, or the top of a hill – and deal with the changing circumstance that is not directed at me personally.

And this last has really been interesting to observe in myself. When something interrupts my plans, my first reaction is to take it personally. I can no longer do what I want, go where I want, have what I want. After all it’s all about me isn’t it? 😉

I remembered this conversation as I walked away from the security checkpoint and took a deep breath. I could let my hair gel go, and acknowledge that this poor guy is doing his best to keep us all safe and his biggest challenge is less with terrorists and more with selfish assholes like me.

A little further I almost walked into a woman who had suddenly stopped to check for something in her bag. In a millisecond I felt the surge of irritation begin, and then I remembered the landslide. I smiled and let it go.


So I was at the club of a good friend of mine last night. If you live in New York and like live music its called Rose. Anyway my friend Carlo asked me to help him diffuse a situation with a young man who was apparently causing some concern from Carlo for his place and his patrons.

So there I was in the basement of this club talking to a very young man, more likely a boy, who I can best describe as proud, rebellious, and oh yeah … cool. Being attached to all three, he was not about to be intimidated by the threat of the police. He was there to stay.

Now the interesting thing for me is that I could not understand this young man. Apart from his repeated entreaties for my understanding his case and how he felt, “You feel me?”, I really struggled to understand what exactly he was angry about.

In his speak I just wasn’t “feelin” him. Except that I got that this young man felt that he was treated unjustly and he wasn’t going to take it. I also saw that what he was angry about had nothing to do with what occurred that night in Carlo’s club. This young man was walking around with anger. He has a conversation/a story about the world being unfair and out to get him and last night he simply found the latest expression of his story.

And he talked non-stop. He spoke the language of his peers and his community and boy did I feel square. I tried my best to “get down with homey” and “dig his deal” but man I was just not hipping with the hop.

This reminded me about Senator Obama’s speech. Here was a very angry young man, that at a very fundamental level just needed to let it out and be heard. It just happened he chose the wrong place and time to do that, and he was also completely blinded by his anger. So angry that he couldn’t listen.

For me this was interesting in that you can’t have communication when no-one is listening. And how do you get someone to listen. Now it would be simple to say that first people must be calm and not in a mood of anger to listen. But being in the right mood is not sufficient. Listening is a practice of being. It is not a skill of tips and techniques that allow you to truly get what’s going on for another person.

Now it really helps when both sides are speaking the same language even if it’s street or Caribbean dialect. So if there is a community that you want to be in communication with you’ve got two practices: first, practice speaking their language, and second practice being compassionate in your listening.

“You hear what I’m sayin’ bro? You feel me?”

By the way cops came and “escorted” the young man out of the club.