Taken from Michael’s apartment in Manizales, Colombia.
For more pictures from his travels, check out his Instagram.
Engulfed in a sea of red jerseys, I know I’d made a mistake. My friends had told me not to go out at night after a soccer match — now I knew why. As I felt the man jump on my back, I felt a rush of adrenaline as my senses heightened.
I had been living in Manizales, Colombia, for two months. After quitting my job as a corporate lawyer, I immersed myself in books, meditation, and getting out of my comfort zone. I wanted to see what life was all about.
A new yet enthusiastic student in the school of mindfulness, I tried my best to acknowledge my emotions, appreciate the present moment, and show compassion for others. Being compassionate can be challenging even in the best of times. The true test comes when we’re faced with greed, anger, or fear.
The Attempted Robbery
So here I was, alone after dark walking down Calle 65. The match between Manizales and Cali had just ended. Swarms of soccer fans covered every square inch of the streets.
Just as my apartment building came into view, a man bear-hugged me from behind. Another man from the left. His hand down my front pocket, where I kept my phone.
“Hola gringo. Estas perdido?”
Suddenly, my instincts took over as I shoved the second man to the left, wiggled my way out the first man’s nonconsensual embrace, and said “No!” in a voice so defiant that I surprised myself.
In a blur, I started speed walking, my arms-pumping with vigorous intensity. I paused for a second when I reached some police officers. After deciding the coast was clear, I resumed power-walking until I reached the safety of my apartment.
Finding Compassion for My Assailants
When I shut the door behind me, I felt a rush of excitement. Slipping my hand into my pocket, I noticed my phone was still there. Crisis averted.
As my nervous system started calming down, I reflected on the experience.
How should I feel about the fact that I was targeted? The thieves, in a menacing tone, had asked me if I was lost. Perhaps I didn’t belong in Colombia. Maybe this was all a big mistake. Should I be angry at the thieves, declaring Colombians to be terrible people?
Of course not.
I’d met too many Colombians to think that these thieves were accurate representatives. My Colombian friends were kind, compassionate, intelligent, and — above all — welcoming.
Fine. So it wasn’t Colombians that were the problem. Perhaps it was just these two specific people who deserved my rage.
But, for some reason, the anger never came. I didn’t know these people, and they didn’t know me. I had just finished The Four Agreements a day or two earlier, and Don Miguel Ruiz’s words echoed in my head:
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
After a moment of reflection, I realized I didn’t know anything about my two thieving acquaintances. They could have decided to try to rob me for a variety of reasons:
- They were insecure and wanted to impress their friends.
- They wanted to sell my phone for rent money.
- They were drunk and had nothing to lose.
Having nothing to lose isn’t an enviable position. Should I hate these people just because their circumstances led them to try to rob me? Certainly not. Instead, I should try to feel compassion.
Of course, everyone is responsible for their behavior to some degree. But when others harm us, we can choose to condemn the action, not the human. While I was less than pleased with the attempted robbery, I could still feel compassion for the individuals. After all, happy, secure people don’t tend to go around stealing.
So, I chose compassion over condemnation. While the thieves will never know I forgave them, my decision brought my peace of mind, happiness, and a renewed conviction that I should stay in Colombia. Compassion isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort.
Michael Bjorn Huseby is a writer, attorney, and travel enthusiast. He loves learning about the intersection of happiness, spirituality, and neuroscience. If you need a freelance writer, check out bjorn2write.com. To hear about more of his travels, visit columbia2colombia.com.