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GUEST COLUMN

It's nothing personal ma'am

BY LISA EARLE MCLEOD

Whether it's the headset-wearing counter clerk at Taco City who always shorts you two burritos, the inattentive friend who never calls you back, or the grumpy spouse who consistently comes home in a lousy mood, sometimes it seems like the whole world is trying to make you feel bad. The irksome behavior of others is often so frustrating that you find yourself wondering if they even realize how hurtful or annoying they're being.

The answer? They don't have a clue. Most people are so wrapped up in their own lives that they aren't even thinking about how their conduct affects you. And behaviors that we often interpret as overt acts of malice or neglect don't really have very much to do with us at all.

For example - have you ever been annoyed that someone didn't call you back and then later found out they were in the middle of a family crisis? I can't tell you how many times I've fretted and fussed and attached all kinds of negative implications to unreturned phone calls and e-mails, only to later find out that the person was out of town or tied up, or that their kids weren't giving them the messages.

It's funny how personally we take it when somebody does something that rubs us the wrong way.

A friend of mine recently overheard a few of her fellow soccer moms dissing one of their skinnier peers for "always showing off with her little shirts and her Bermuda shorts." The slender show-off was actually wearing the same style clothing as all the rest of the moms. Her real offense was having the nerve to show up at practice in a size-2 body. But because her mere existence made the other women feel insecure about themselves, they assumed she was trying to make them feel bad on purpose. When you interpret the actions of others as always being directed at you, your own life can become pretty miserable.

A neighbor doesn't return your wave as they drive by your house. It couldn't possibly be that they were blinded by the windshield glare or have their mind on a problem at work. They must be purposely snubbing you. Your in-laws chatter on without including you in the conversation. They're maliciously trying to alienate you because, even though everybody in their family jumps into conversations by talking over each other, they should have intuited that you deserve an invitation. We're all the star of our own movie and I'm as guilty as the next person of taking things personally. But there's a simple trick you can use to keep yourself from being so annoyed at the people around you.

The next time somebody ignores you, yells at you or otherwise inconveniences you, just imagine that there's some really awful thing going on in their life that's causing them to behave that way. Somebody cuts you off in traffic? Perhaps they just got an emergency phone call from their bleeding child, who has unwisely broken the "No Using the Blender When Mom's Not Home" rule. A co-worker screams at you for not using the correct blue on your Power Point slides? She probably just dropped her youngest child off at rehab, again.

I know it's not exactly what Jesus, Buddha or Gandhi would do. But for a less evolved schmuck like me, sometimes imagining a pox on others is the only way I can keep from killing them.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a speaker, syndicated humor columnist and author of "Forget Perfect" and her new book, "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear."

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