Steven Shewach examines his ego when a confrontation with a guy riding a kiddie bike shows him he still has work to do on his personal development.
A couple of weeks ago I received another opportunity to continue EATing; that’s Emotional Agility Training. It’s step number four of my four-step Mind Taming Training program that I developed to cure myself of OES – Obese Ego Syndrome. The goal being greater awareness of my feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and physiological responses as influenced by internal and external stimuli and my subsequent reactions, behaviors, and actions. This has been a powerful, and sometimes painful, skill acquisition where I’ve learned to hone my ability to process thoughts and emotions on-the-fly, absent (most of the time) the fight or flight response, and in turn choose actions that bring me and others a mutually beneficial and drama-free outcome. This invokes the greatest superpower known to humankind, the power of choice.
I returned to my car ahead of my wife and in-laws several minutes before the meter was to run out while they were finishing shopping. Rather than putting in more money because I’m a wee bit miserly, I decided to enjoy the wonderful weather and just wait near the car for them to arrive. All the while keeping an eye out for a meter-checker person (can’t call them meter maids anymore can we?)
On the sidewalk, a few feet from my car and in front of a frozen yogurt joint, was a simple upside-down U-shaped bike rack with two kids bikes locked up; one on each of the verticals. I’m 99.9% certain the bike rack is owned by the city and not the yogurt joint. I leaned back on the curved part of the smooth tubular metal rack, in between the two bikes, being mindful to not to hit them—even though they were just junky kids bikes. It was the perfect perch to commence waiting for my family due to it’s conducive height to my butt and it’s smooth surface. My back was towards the window of the yogurt shop as I was looking out across the street to a park so I could people watch and and enjoy the sun.
Within a minute or so I heard a voice that seemed to be directed at me; something about not leaning on the bike rack. I turned around to see a bearded, tattooed, bandana-wearing hipster dude in his 30′s come out of the yogurt shop with his big-rimmed glasses-wearing, hair-dyed hipster girlfriend carrying their respective biodegradable yogurt cups. Beard boy called out to me and conveyed he was uncomfortable with me leaning on the bike rack. Again, in case you missed it earlier, I was not touching the bikes. He asked me to not lean on the rack because of my proximity to their bikes. As if my snap judgment, based solely on their looks wasn’t enough; but now that I knew they were the owners of said bikes they were reassessed as: ‘stupid hipster refuse-to-age-gracefully adults who like to ride kids BMX-style bikes that are entirely too small for them’.
The moment I realized he was talking to me, my hackles went up. At first it was probably because I thought this burly dude was going to physically engage me. But alas, he rides a kids bike. Threat level returned to neutral. I had two thoughts in quick succession of each other. First, I was impressed that he was taking ownership of his feelings by conveying them to me clearly—that it was he who was uncomfortable with me so close to their bikes. Second, on another more primal level, a litany of ego-based thoughts immediately formed in my mind, including:
- You think I’ll jack up your shitty kids bikes. I’m some heathen who has no regard for these bikes – albeit little chintzy kids bikes? How dare you make the assumption I’m some rogue property damager.
- Do you, Mr. Too-old-to-be-riding-this-stupid-piece-of-shit-kids-bike, own this fucking bike rack? Because I don’t think you do and since that’s all I’m touching, you best back off bearded bandana boy.
Or Maybe It Unfolded Like This
Mr. TOTBRTSPOSKB (coming out of yogurt shop): Hey man, I’m uncomfortable with you leaning on that bike rack. Can you not do it?
Me: Um – I’m not touching your bikes.
Mr. TOTBRTSPOSKB: I was watching from inside and it just makes me uncomfortable. Can you not do it?
Me: I was careful not to touch the bikes
Mr. TOTBRTSPOSKB: Can’t you just not do it?
Me: I could, but I don’t see what the problem is.
(Even though I was already aware of and somewhat impressed that he was owning his uneasiness and asking for what he wanted)
Mr. TOTBRTSPOSKB (increased tone of frustration): What’s your problem? I’m asking you to not lean on the rack. Why don’t you lean on your car?
Me: (Slight pause) You know what – I will.
Mr. TOTBRTSPOSKB: OK
(Hipster couple turns around and goes back inside and I lean on my car, now facing the yogurt shop window, trying to look cool)
Let’s Break It Down
It was a bizarre exchange no doubt. While there was some testosterone jockeying as part of the affront to my ego, I was standing there thinking this guy is owning his shit. He’s acknowledging his reaction to an external stimulus—in this case me—getting too close to their cheap, goofy bikes. There was this weird dissonance occurring because I simultaneously applauded his ownership and accountability but couldn’t seem to initially reconcile that it was me who was generating his strife and discomfort; at least from his perspective. I acquiesced because I quickly realized that what he was experiencing was true for him. It was futile to argue with him about his version of reality. Which was that my presence and proximity posed a threat to some he was (perhaps overly) attached to.
Although at first I wanted to argue with him, mostly to defend my ego, I realized that our two realities were, in that moment, quite polarized. And since he was owning his reality and it really wasn’t a big deal to lean on my car instead, I could, should and would comply with his request.
Take Off The Mind Taming Training Training Wheels
In keeping with my current exploration and study of total personal accountability, responsibility and ownership of all things past, current and future in my life, I was caught between Old Me wanting to defend my ego because it was still somewhat obese and New Me who was learning how to cultivate compassion and empathy for other people; especially when they are experiencing a moment (or many moments) of inner disequilibrium. This is neuroplasticity in action.
Even in retelling this story, I’ve purposely made fun of their kid bikes repeatedly and in doing so I’ve shown it’s still me who’s got work to do. It’s me who needs to look in the mirror and ask why am I triggered by adults who ride kids bikes? Why do I judge them? They’re not breaking laws or hurting people.
So to Mr. Too-old-to-be-riding-this-stupid-piece-of-shit-kids-bike, thank you.
You provided me with another opportunity to become aware of, question, and choose my responses and behavior. You’ve played a very helpful role in my personal growth and development. Maybe we can go go for a bike ride together sometime. Just know, I’ll be riding my big boy bike.
Originally appeared at Love More, Hurt Less.com
Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr