I admit to having feet of clay.

My original purpose for this video was to excoriate the awful service and terrible treatment my dog and I received at a pet ER center — and get your empathy and outrage.

After a week, I was able to see the chance to create something better, for when we’re on the giving or receiving end of stress.

Here’s the neuroscience:

  • When someone is yelling at you, your (subconscious) mirror neurons invite you to respond in kind. If you do, this makes the other person want to shout even louder (because their mirror neurons are working, too). But when was the last time hollering over someone made a situation better? Instead, speak more slowly and calmly, which invites them to do the same.
  • When someone is under great stress, the amygdala in their brain shuts down their decision-making and planning abilities. All they have left is fight, flight, freeze, or fawn (bowing to another’s superiority). The woman I was dealing with was in fight. In that condition, there was no way she could hear what I wanted. That meant I needed to let her blow out her vitriol until she could reach that point (and then get what I wanted).

Here’s the humanity:

  • When someone asks you to listen, then listen. You may not be able to solve their problem, but making them feel seen and heard can diffuse the situation. This can calm everyone enough to be able to create a solution. (Here’s a quick read on the two types of listening.)
  • Stop keeping score in stressful situations. It’s true: I thought having a sick pet and waiting hours to be helped meant I had more reason to be aggrieved and listened to. But what must this woman’s life have been like to feel so angry that dumping her ire on a vulnerable person was the right thing to do? Let go and let others have their say. They’ll poop out at some point, then be ready to hear you.

If you have lost a loved one — of any species — I send you care, support and energy. Thanks to everyone who is doing the same for me.