A True Story…
There I was, standing at the corner just across the street from my apartment, waiting for the light to change… when PLOP.
Right on my forehead and across the lens of my glasses.
Bird poop. On my face.
My first, reaction was just to be startled, since it seemed to come out of nowhere. However, as soon as I realized what had happened and it began sliding down my forehead, I felt my mood begin to slide in the same direction.
“Of all the places this bird could have pooped! Seriously? In my eye?! Grr! And why is that guy standing next to me snickering? He thinks it’s funny that a bird poop just pooped on my face?! I mean, he’s not even trying to hide it! Seriously, what’s wrong with these French people?! Not to mention French birds!” (Grump, grump, grump…)
Moments earlier, I had been walking along, enjoying the sunshine, smiling, listening to a bird chirping nearby. (Perhaps the self-same bird, in fact.) Now: total grumpsville.
You might think: well of course I felt grumpy! Anyone would feel grumpy about being pooped on by a bird. But that’s not necessarily so. (Just wait!) It’s not the experience itself that causes our emotional reaction, but our interpretation of the experience — the meaning we assign to it. I know that this might sound like splitting hairs, but hang in there with me on this one.
Of course, having a bird poop on you isn’t the most physically pleasant thing in the world. The actual physical sensation was moderately unpleasant for a few seconds, but probably no more so than having some water drop off the tree onto my head. But it was my interpretation of the experience that sent my mood into a nosedive.
As exciting and romantic as life abroad can be at times, at other times, it can feel like nothing goes your way. Everything seems harder than it has to be. That administrative procedure for which you painstakingly followed all the rules? There’s going to be something they require that’s not on the list. That office you need to go to? You can rearrange your schedule to go when they say they’ll be open, and they very well may be closed with no explanation. So when the bird pooped on my head, my interpretation was, “Great. And here I was finally having a perfectly nice day, and you have to go and rain on my parade.” (Except not just rain — $#*! on my parade is more like it.)
First, I went down the thought-path of “poor me,” and “it’s not fair,” and “Can’t anything just go right for once?”
Then, when I saw the man standing next to me chuckling, seemingly at my expense, I very quickly jumped on the thought-train of “French people are inconsiderate jerks” (a train that goes nowhere nice).
Now, to be fair, it didn’t help that only a few weeks before, a still-burning cigarette had hit me in the head while waiting in the exact same spot, presumably thrown off a balcony above by someone who — you know — may or may not have been French, and who clearly didn’t care about throwing burning objects on pedestrians. So that probably made it a bit easier to go there with my interpretation. But still.
The problem is that, often, our thoughts and interpretations are so automatic that it feels as if there’s no space between the event and reaction.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — VIKTOR FRANKL
But there is.
And, as Victor Frankl so rightly points out, in that space, we have a choice. Are we going to effortlessly slide down the well-worn, automatic path? Or will we choose a different path? One that may be a bit more challenging, a bit more overgrown — but one that might be worth the extra effort, because it leads to a different, more pleasant place?
But, anyway, back to my story…
Still waiting for the light to change, I was fuming. Thankfully, however, I caught myself sliding down the rabbit hole.
I took a deep breath. I thought about how it was lucky that this happened only right across the street from my apartment, so at least I would be able to wash it off soon.
I thought about the poor bird probably doesn’t have anywhere else to poop, because we humans are crowding him out of the city.
And then I thought about the last time a bird pooped on my head. (Yes, unfortunately, this was not a first-time experience.)
About 7½ years ago, when I was in grad school, the same thing happened — only way worse. That time, it had landed directly on top of my head and got all in my hair, which made it much harder to wipe off. It was also much bigger. Plus, this all happened in the middle of the day when I was on my way to a meeting with my supervision group across campus. Not fun. (But, now looking back, pretty funny.)
Later that same day, however, I recounted the story to a friend of mine. When she heard my story, she immediately gave me a huge smile and told me that, in Japan, where she is from, there’s a belief that if a bird poops on you it brings good luck. Ok, I thought, I’ll go with that. Why not? It certainly beats feeling grumpy about it.
And, you know what? The rest of that year turned out to be pretty great. I met my now-partner only a few months later. Whether or not the bird had anything to do with it, I’ll never know, but it makes for a good story.
I’m not usually superstitious, but I choose to go with the bird poop belief. Why not turn something that might otherwise feel like horrible luck (one interpretation) into something that feels like it could bring you good luck (another interpretation)? The worst that happens is it puts you in a better mood for no reason.
And so, as I stood there on the corner the other day, wiping the bird poop off my glasses, I began to smile, almost in spite of myself. And then to giggle. Finally, I looked over at the guy standing next to me, and he actually gave me sheepish, sympathetic grin before the light changed and we both crossed the street.
Ok, so maybe French people (and French birds) aren’t so bad after all. Now I just have to wait and see what lucky things this coming year has in store for me.
The Power of Perspective
I wanted to share this story with you because I think it illustrates just how powerful our thoughts and perspectives can be in determining how we feel. In a future blog post, we’ll discuss the relationship between thoughts and feelings in more depth. In the meantime, I hope you can chuckle with me — and maybe keep your eye out for opportunities to shift your own perspective, even in small ways!
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