I was at the dog park the other day with my 10-month-old baby daughter, my 10-year-old stepson, his 10-year-old friend and our dog Jaco.

It was late on a beautiful Fall afternoon and we were enjoying ourselves.  The dog was chasing his friends, the boys were playing catch with the dogs and I was holding my baby girl as she screamed, smiled and giggled with glee seeing all these different colors, shapes and breeds of dogs for the very first time.

As we began to leave, we entered ‘the cage’; the area that is protected by a fence and two gates to prevent dogs from bolting from the dog park.  My step son and his friend were busy trying grab our dog and I suddenly found my arms trying to wrestle control of one very fidgety baby.  In a matter of seconds, we had not been able to grab the inner-gate and close it the whole way.   Fortunately, there weren’t any dogs trying to make a run for it, and even if they had, there was a second gate that would have kept them in the ‘cage.’

However, a man inside the dog park stomped up to us, glared at me and in a very loud voice which was meant to embarrass both myself and the two boys scolded, “You are supposed to keep the gate to the dog park closed so the other dogs don’t get out!” and slammed the inner-gate.

Of course in a situation like this, the only person who truly was embarrassed was the man who made the choice to approach the situation the way he did.  Instead of recognizing a person struggling and offering to help out, he instead made a choice to voice his anger and his annoyance.  While I was a little shocked, I certainly wasn’t embarrassed and it appeared that most of the people who witnessed the situation only seemed embarrassed for him.

Can you imagine the opportunity he missed?  The level of goodwill and positive energy he would have created if he would have simply offered to help out?  The friend in me he would have created? The inspiration and good example he could have set for 2 ten-year-olds? Perhaps he would have influenced others around him to be a little more patient and understanding.

Instead, we walked away a little deflated with me trying to explain to the kids about why that “mean man” acted the way he did.

I began to wonder what type of colleague this guys was at his work, or for that matter they type of boss he might be.  Was he a bully?  Would something this simple shoot his blood pressure to above boiling and make him lash out at his co-workers or those that worked for him?  Would he be the guy who constantly found and complained about problems at work and sought faults in others?     Somehow I didn’t see him as the person who would step in and be a problem solver or assist a co-worker in need.  What about his personal relationships?  Would he be a good friend that would step in when someone was in need or be annoyed that he was asked?

Perhaps he was just having a bad day and was venting.  Perhaps he had started to believe all the current campaign ads designed to make us all mad about everything and find excuses to problems through the blame and fault of others.

As a matter of fact, I saw a national survey the other day in which the majority of respondents believed that America’s best days were behind us.  Has this level of cynicism, frustration and anger really bled down to our day-to-day interaction with our neighbors?

Of course it got me thinking about the things that irritate me and how I respond to them.

I remember a few weeks ago, I was stuck in traffic because of an accident up the road.  It prevented me from being on time to an important appointment.  “How rude! Why can’t be people be more careful!” I thought to myself.   Then the guilt washed over me when I drove by the accident and and saw someone was being wheeled into an ambulance, paramedics hovering over them trying to save a life while off to the side, a police officer was frantically trying to reach their relatives.

Or the poor customer service agent hundreds or thousands of miles away, probably making barely enough to pay her rent having to listen to my rant and tirade about the “outrageous” $20 mistake on my cell phone bill.  How stupid I felt when she politely, professionally and eagerly fixed my problem.

I remember one time about 20 years ago, I rushed onto my plane and got to my seat and there was someone sitting in MY seat!  We both had the same tickets.  I turned around and started walking up the aisle and had to do the ‘pardon-me, excuse-me’ dance into the oncoming traffic.  By the time I got to a flight attendant, smoke was coming out of my ears!

“I paid good money for a seat on this plane!”  I scolded as other passengers started staring!

“I reserved a seat three months ago!  I get back to the seat I was supposed to be in and someone is sitting in my seat!  This is outrageous that something as simple as a seating assignment could be so screwed up!” I yelled, secretly hoping they’d put me in First Class.

The flight attendant was courteous, calm and polite, “Sir, yes sir, I understand sir, please sir, can I please see your ticket sir?”

I gave her my ticket and she looked at it.

“You’ve got the right seat,” she whispered politely as not to embarrass me,  “But you are on the wrong plane.  We’re going to Oakland, not Denver”

I felt like about 2 inches high as I slithered off the plane.

The fact is, we should all step back a moment and, as my 10-year-old has to remind me way too often CHILLAX!

Let’s recognize what really matters in our lives – our health, our families, our friendships.  Yes, we are without question living in difficult times and for a lot of people who are out of work or are struggling with anxieties in other areas of their lives, it’s not so easy to simply relax.

But we can see problems as barriers or irritations that give us an excuse to lash out, or we can view them as obstacles that bring opportunity and ask ourselves, “What can we do to improve the situation right now and what is my goal and vision to change the situation long term?  How can I inspire others to join me?  How can I erase the anxiety and replace it with excitement about the challenge and the opportunity to make a significant difference?”

To me, that’s a lot more satisifying and productive.

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