When People’s Problems Spill Over Into Our Lives

Living Well

One time, I needed a ride home, 150 miles away. And one of my friends, who was moving some things in his old car, offered to give me a ride. When he arrived to pick me up, the backseat was filled with household items, including a canary in a birdcage. And I just managed to squeeze in.

Midway through the trip, the muffler fell off. My friend stopped the car, collected the muffler from the middle of the highway, and began to think of how to makeshift a repair.

He took a screwdriver and hammered two holes in the floor behind the driver’s seat, poked a wire coat hanger through one hole, caught the muffler in the u-shape, brought the coat hanger back up through the second hole, and twisted the two ends together, holding the muffler to the bottom of the car.

He thought it was ingenious. But I protested! What if deadly fumes entered the car through the holes? Since I was the only one in the backseat, I’d be the first to go. My friend laughed and then assured me that the bird would go first. So I rode the rest of the trip with my eyes on the canary.


People are always going to surprise us with unexpected behavior. And some of it we’ll like, and some of it we won’t. But it’s never appropriate to dump our stuff on them.

We may think that force equals strength and that our best response is to push against people and conditions that we don’t like. But then we’ll miss out on using the power we all have to make life better for others and ourselves.

It’s not weak to be bigger than what’s happening, and to support people in spite of reasons to not. It’s actually heroic.

We’re in charge of our emotions. No one else is. And we can decide whether to hang onto unpleasant feelings. If not, we can stop giving them attention and meaning, and instead focus on what makes us feel good.

I could’ve fussed at my friend while I was cramped in the backseat with the bird and the fumes. But I knew, even under those circumstances, that the better choice is to keep relating well to people while they’re searching for answers, and to appreciate their efforts.

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Pic by Mike Ricioppo

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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project and HuffPost