Honoring Humanity In Everyday Life | About

Negative Emotion Is a Compass

Maybe you’ve had experiences like these…

I’m driving down the highway, cruising along at the pace of traffic, when I see a slow-moving truck in front of me. The lane beside me looks clear, so I switch on my turn signal and prepare to pass the truck. But just as I begin to accelerate and change lanes, a car swerves in front of me. I’m forced to react quickly – slamming on the breaks and slowing back down.

How dare that person cut me off. They could have hit me. What right do they have to drive like that?

I know I shouldn’t get upset. I know I should remain calm and show patience. I know the driver is just overtaking the same truck.

But I struggle. Despite knowing the more appropriate response, I can’t help but feel angry.

Or I’m reading in the quiet of park. The day is warm and sunny. Flowers bloom all around me. The silence is perfect. Or so it is until the park grounds’ crew comes by with their lawn-mower. Its roar shatters the serenity. The whirring of the motor makes it impossible to concentrate. I can’t block it out. I can’t focus on my book.

Why do they have to pick right now to mow the grass? Can’t they see that I’m sitting here peacefully? Can’t they show me a bit of courtesy?

I know I shouldn’t take it personally. I know the grounds’ crew is just doing their job. I know that I can easily move to somewhere quieter. I know I shouldn’t get annoyed.

But I struggle. Despite knowing the more appropriate response, I can’t help but feel frustrated.

Or I’m at the end of a long day – a day full of hard work. All I want to do is relax. I just want to disconnect for a bit. But there’s a pile of dishes to do. And family demands my time and attention. I don’t get the chance to rest.

Why can’t I just have a some time to myself. Can’t they see I’m tired? Don’t they understand I need a break?

I know I shouldn’t be so self-centered. I know my wife has probably had a long day too. I know I should be grateful for the time with those I love.

But I struggle. Despite knowing the more appropriate response, I can’t help but feel uptight.


Sometimes there’s a gap between how we know we should respond and how we actually respond. In those times, it’s easy to get frustrated at our shortcomings.

But getting upset at ourselves isn’t helpful. It puts us in a downward spiral.

Instead, give yourself a bit of grace and remember that frustrations – and similar emotions – are information. They tell us something’s not right.

Celebrate your awareness — that you noticed your emotion. For having a clear picture of what is happening is the first part of practice. It offers an opportunity to reflect, go deeper, and ask questions.

Why are we unable to show patience, grace and gratitude? What does the situation say about ourselves? What triggered our frustration? How can we be better prepared in the future? What would make it easier to respond differently?

So we explore and examine. And next time, just maybe, the experience will be different.