Research has shown that having sympathy for someone who insults you can reduce the brain activity associated with anger. This makes sense intuitively, but I put it to the test the other day. Standing in a slowly moving queue, very hot (I’m somewhere where the mercury is edging up to 40 degrees), a heavily pregnant woman ahead of me turned on me and hurled some pretty offensive invective. I had triggered her rage, it seems, by attempting to translate into English what she seemed to be struggling to understand. Interfering perhaps, but my will was good, honest.
I’m ashamed to admit that my knee-jerk response would usually be hostile too, although I’ve learned to keep such responses in the privacy of my mind more and more. However, seeing my attacker’s pregnant belly rather than hearing her foul insults reminded me of how wound-up and protective of my body I have been when pregnant. If I felt hot and tired and fed up, my queue neighbour had it worse. I apologised immediately, she carried on shouting, I felt calm and not smug. Remembering this trick in other situations will be challenging I’m sure.