Previously published on Forbes
It’s okay to be a really terrible person right now.
I know I have been. I think I just got tired of trying to be so good all the time — to say the kind thing, to be a leader, to be compassionate. These things are all well and good, of course. And necessary for a functioning society.
But you are human. You are bound to screw up and say mean things to people you love and maybe a stranger or two. This pandemic is no joke. It is a marathon, and we were collectively NOT in shape to run a marathon. So, we’re fatigued and cranky. And we can’t escape to our familiar comforts — going out to dinner, browsing through our favorite stores, going to the casino, playing golf or tennis (depending on where you live).
There are days when I think I am going to crawl out of my skin. And we are only at week eight of sheltering in place.
The other day, I needed to get out of my WFH situation. I needed a distraction — bad. So, I thought I would pop up to Fred Meyer and pick up some cheery flowers for my planters — you know, spring has sprung and all that. I was distracted as I was driving and somehow, apparently, I cut off another driver. I know this because she pulled up right close behind me — scary close — and blared her horn at me. When I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw her with her middle finger extended toward me, I deduced that she was angry about something I had done.
She was still hot on my tail as I eased down the one-way lane to search for a parking spot. By the time I got to the second lane with her behind me, my fear increased. Suddenly, she was right next to me in a lane meant for one car. She had her window down and was screaming obscenities that are not fit for publication. I found myself screaming right back. In the Fred Meyer parking lot.
She raced off and parked her car in a far parking spot and everything in me wanted to smash my car into hers. The rage I felt was surprising. I am generally a moderate person with good manners and self-control. And here I was ready to commit vehicular assault. I knew I needed to calm myself down. I pulled into an empty spot and took a couple of deep breaths.
But then the thought came to me to get out and ruin her car with my car keys. What is happening to me? I wondered. Have I become some sort of barbarian who shrieks at people like a wild animal? I drove home with my hands shaking, confused about what had just happened.
Here’s the thing. I’m human. For a minute, I cracked. I didn’t actually go through with it, but it was jarring enough that I contemplated doing something so out of character for me. And this might be what is happening to you, too. You might not recognize yourself from time to time right now. It’s okay. You are not a terrible person. You are a human in the midst of a pandemic.
Of course, we can’t let the lapses become our new habits and ways of reacting. We have to get a grip on our sensibilities if we want to be part of the solution. And I know I can count on you — and me — to do that.
I encourage you to give yourself a little room to be terrible. And give other people room too.
What’s working for me is to pause and take a deep breath before reacting, remembering that we’re all going through something right now — and what others are going through may be magnitudes worse than my situation. We are all just finding our way here, one day at a time.