If COVID has taught us anything, it’s not to “sweat the small stuff.” These past two years have been a kick in the pants for the world, and people have suffered excruciating losses. It seems ironic in the face of all of this chaos that we can still get caught in that one guy or gal at work who makes snide comments or that customer who acts like a tyrant. In the end, we know better than to let them get to us, and still we allow the rude, arrogant behaviors to get under our skin.

We all search desperately for the key to letting things go when we deal with people we don’t like. We know better than to hold on to it, and yet it somehow gnaws at us, ruining a perfectly good day we know we’ll never get back.

We can’t choose to deal only with “nice” people. We can’t avoid them (unless you stay in COVID lockdown forever). We can’t overpower them. So, there is only one option left: Compassion.

The word compassion has Latin roots that translate into “suffering together with.” Webster’s dictionary defines it as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.” Ironically, you don’t have to actually like someone to be conscious of their suffering. You simply need to remember that we all suffer, and not one of us can survive it alone.

We practice compassion not only for the benefit other human beings, but for ourselves. Well-known psychologist and author Arthur Jersild writes that compassion is “the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment.”

Many of us have been stuck at times, trying to find some soft space in our hearts for a bully, a loudmouth or someone who is disrespectful of others. No doubt, it’s a challenge, but which would you rather feel, resentment or compassion? It actually feels better to let go of the grudge than to hold on to the anger.

The big question when it comes to compassion isn’t whether or not we should have it, it’s how do we actually do it? If you are struggling with someone in your life right now, here are two questions to ask yourself:

1) Are you ever difficult? I can remember one time (shamefully) screaming at a front desk agent at a hotel late at night when I was exhausted for losing my reservation. I literally threw a fit, only to realize later that I was the one who booked the wrong night. I’m sure that staff member thought of me as a horrible, difficult, mean guest, and she was right. Hopefully, that’s not a reflection of who I am most of the time. It was just a moment. The point is that we all behave badly at times; we all have a dark side and bad habits. Being more aware of them helps us understand others when we are on the receiving end. When we begin to first acknowledge and then forgive our own mistakes, compassion flows more easily to others.

2) What are their motives? Grownups, like children, act out when they are in pain and can’t quite understand it or obtain tools to deal with it. Typical motives for poor behavior are anger, fear, insecurity, hurt and jealousy. Most people aren’t born mean, arrogant, jealous or angry. They become that way for a reason — or a multitude of them. You don’t have to try to psychoanalyze people, but it is helpful to get some insight into the cause of their behaviors. Suffice it to say that when people treat others badly, they are miserable. Their punishment is their own behavior.

The point of compassion isn’t about letting difficult people off the hook; it’s about freeing yourself from their actions. Compassion means understanding that we are all flawed. It doesn’t excuse behaviors, nor does it mean you should tolerate someone who treats you poorly. The key, however, is to release your own anger and frustration by understanding theirs. The reward from that approach is entirely yours.

Elisa Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For information, call 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.