“We have to learn to love people even if they are not giving you what you want… and then not take it personally. If you feel hurt, you have to recognize that they are not hurting you because you are you, but because they are them. You have to try not to be so hard on yourself.” ~Krishna Das


I walk down the aisle of the airplane. I watch kids wiggle in their seats, strangers extending their hands to help others put their bags in overhead storage, and I listen to the tentativeness of conversation among 2 people who are talking only because their seats are lettered, A and B. I locate my assigned seat, sit, and click my seat belt around my waist.

It is small plane, so I take an opportunity to turn around and look behind me. I spot a middle-aged Indian woman who appears to be seated next to a man, who I presume is her husband. The middle of her forehead is decorated with a traditional red dot and her gold bangles are prominently displayed on her arms. She sees me. I see her. And what do I do? I smile at her. In return, her face remains stoic and her mouth commits to no expression. My immediate thought is, “Why didn’t she smile back at me? Was my smile not genuine?”  I try to dismiss our lack of exchange, but I tend to take these kind of moments personally.

It is silly, isn’t it? Taking some random non-verbal cue from a stranger and internalizing it? She does not know me. I do not know her. Her lack of response has nothing to do with me. 

These type of encounters fade in a few minutes, but what about those conversations where the person is  an acquaintance or a good friend or a family member? How often do we take what people say to us, react, and then blame ourselves for their behavior? There are a handful of times where I’ve  internally reacted to an acquaintance’s observation on my parenting, career choices, or preferences. After these brief moments, I tend to blame myself to justify their inappropriate comment or observation. This is precisely the mental gymnastics I need to refrain from. Most people are just dealing with their own emotions and vulnerabilities and their reaction or non-reaction usually points to some insecurity within themselves.

I think about my lack of exchange with the Indian woman on the plane. Maybe right before I smiled at her, she had a massive argument with her husband or she was attending the funeral of a loved one or she was travelling for the first time away from her family in India. I don’t know. What I do know is that the next time I gravitate toward being hard on myself because someone “hurt” me, I need to call a mental time out.

I need to think about that woman on the plane. And remember to not take things so personally.