People cut us off in traffic, people break into lines ahead of us, people brush by us on the sidewalk not moving over to make room, people are rude and impatient. It’s a dog eat dog world where everyone expects immediate satisfaction of their needs and may view the rest of us as obstacles in their way.

We make a wrong move, a wrong turn, a mistaken choice and we are subjected to a harangue or obscene gesture or some other sort of public humiliation. And, as appalling as this behavior is, sometimes we ourselves are the guilty parties! We are the ones who are impatient and demanding and frustrated and, yes, rude.

There are many strategies for avoiding this, many techniques for working on ourselves and our character so that we do not become those people - you know the ones I mean, the ones who embarrass themselves by making a scene and have everyone else in the restaurant, or in line at the bank, or waiting patiently at the Apple store (read my article about this, which seems to have hit a real chord), cringing and trying desperately to look somewhere else.

One of my students gave me a good idea that I’ve added to my toolbox to help calm me down and make wise choices in those challenging situations. In general I try to imagine that the person I am currently frustrated with i.e. prepared to yell at, honk at, or in other way display my worst self, is the local rabbi. I try to imagine the abject humiliation I would feel when he turns around to see who is treating him so poorly. I imagine myself sinking into the floor - and I stop myself from any negative behavior I was contemplating. This is a strategy born of fear.

My student taught me a strategy born of love and compassion. Actually, to be fair, it was her husband’s idea. Every time someone is rude to them or nasty or impatient, every time someone brushes past them in line or honks incessantly (or worse!) she tells herself that they must be having a difficult day or time. They must have had a fight with their wife or a blow-up with their teenagers. They must be falling behind on a work deadline or have just heard bad news from their doctor.

Instead of judging them negatively, she judges them with kindness and compassion. She tries to imagine all the challenges in their lives that must have led to this unpleasant action. And then she can let it go. She can let her breath out. She can move on.

This is an attitude that can be transferred to almost every situation in life. It will make us deeper, more thoughtful people and much less quick to react with pain or frustration. It takes the situation from personal attacks to anonymous, from our pain to the pain of another.

It’s actually not just another tool in my tool box – it’s now my primary one. Like the Talmud says, From my students I learned most of all.