The Parable of the Man on the Train

Recently, I met a mean person (actually, I had to spend the day with her…but that’s another story for another time).This person was lashing out at the drop of a hat and using hurtful and unnecessary language to hurt people’s feelings. Her actions cast a wide net of bad energy over everyone and everything that happened that day. She even made someone cry. Admittedly, this was an extreme case – most people are not that prone to anger over minor things. Or to act on it, either.

But the whole experience got me thinking more about compassion and the way we treat other humans. Most especially, it got me thinking about a story I heard a long time ago.

Oddly enough, this tale was told to me by the HR manager at one of my old jobs. It was during one of those boring conferences about workplace ethics. We were all bored, shooting each other sidelong looks to convey how much we wanted the session to end so we could get back to our desks/eat lunch/gossip in the kitchen. But when the manager began to tell this story, we started to pay attention. It really, really stuck out and got people listening and thinking. It’s been with me ever since, and always makes me think twice about how I approach a person who is upsetting me. And how I interact with people in general.

So, I thought I’d pass it along.

The Parable of the Man on the Train

One evening on the train, there was a father with three unruly young children. They were running up and down, yelling and laughing, and generally creating the distracting, annoying spectacle that little children are apt to make. Their father didn’t seem to care or notice that they were causing a disturbance, and did nothing to stop them.

An older woman near the back of the train was clearly simmering with annoyance that this stupid, inconsiderate person was letting his children run wild. How could he be so thoughtless? Didn’t she deserve a relaxing ride home after work? These kids were ruining her quiet time! Finally, she stood up, put her hands on her hips, and marched straight over to the man, her face flushed with anger. 

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” she yelled loudly, “Can’t you control your children? Don’t you care that they’re acting like animals and annoying everyone on this car? What kind of a father are you? Your children are going to grow up to be undisciplined brats!”

The man’s shoulders slumped and he began to cry, and then weep, into his hands. Finally he looked up. His eyes were empty and sad. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Their mother died this morning. I still haven’t told them. I don’t know how.”

Ashamed at how she had lashed out, the woman didn’t know what to say.

Damn, right?

Think about what you say to people and how you treat them. We’re all human. We all have baggage and shit going on and insecurities and dreams and fears. You never know what another person has been through, or is going through, or why they are acting the way they are.

Before letting your anger loose on someone, stop and think about whether or not it’s really warranted. Should you really be angry, or is this a minor thing you can address calmly, or even just let go of? Will it really cost you more to be kind than it will to be harsh and mean?

Will yelling help the situation, or will it make everyone involved feel even more upset? Could you instead confront the situation with a compassionate mind and heart?

For example, the woman on the train could have approached that man calmly and let him know the disturbance his children were causing. She also might have noticed from his body language that he was upset and asked him if he was all right, but she was too busy thinking about herself and how offended she was. Instead of breaking him down into tears, she could have been the kind voice he needed to hear.

So all I’m saying is: the world can be a tough place, full of sadness and disappointment and fear. Let’s make it better by not being shitty to each other.





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