In the story of Seabiscuit, the famous racehorse who reached his peak during the Great Depression, there’s a moment of revelation by his jockey, Red Pollard. During one of his early races aboard Seabiscuit, the pair was fouled by another jockey and Pollard reacted in kind, pushing the horse and rider into the rail. He was so consumed with retaliation he pushed Seabiscuit to a sprint too early and was eventually overcome by several horses at the finish line. All odds were on Seabiscuit to win, so understandably both trainer and owner were outraged at the jockey’s poor judgment on the track. When confronted, Pollard’s only response was, “He fouled me, what am I supposed to do, let him get away with that? He FOULED me!” The injustice seemingly unfathomable. After more back-and-forth, the owner finally asked, “Son, what are you so mad at?”

Pollard’s overreaction had very little to do with that race, that jockey or that foul. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that as a teenager Pollard was abandoned early on in the Depression by his family with the promise of “we’ll call every week and we’ll be back for you.” They never called. They never came back. Where’s the justice in that?

The reality is, we don’t really know what someone is going through or fully what they’ve been through. What experiences in their life have developed them into the person they are today. I believe this is a concept we can all recognize, but what about when we’re the person? When we are the one acting out? This may look different for everyone. It may not be in the form of a triggered overreaction, but maybe in a harsh criticism or a disregard for another’s feelings. What I’ve learned is, we may not even realize we’re doing it.

When my last relationship ended, the circumstances brought out some of, if not my deepest, insecurities. And instead of facing those, I pulled out every coping mechanism in my book. At the time, I had no idea that’s what I was doing. I thought I was just finding myself again, stepping back into the single life, girls just trying to have fun.

The result? On the surface, a fun, flirtatious girl ready to party. Underneath, a girl seeking attention and validation to cover up those insecurities, no matter where it was coming from. I needed proof that someone could still want me.

I never stopped to ask another “why?” Why was I behaving this way? Reacting this way? Feeling this way? This was my first bad breakup, one that didn’t end with a conversation but by being blindsided with deceit. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this, so I was in a one-day-at-a-time-figure-this-out-as-we-go kind of state. The kind of fragility that insecurities thrive on.

I believed I had been in a loving, committed relationship which meant that I hadn’t had to face those insecurities for over two years. Then when that fell apart, so did the wall I’d built around those insecurities. They hadn’t been mended by me being in a relationship, they’d been masked. And LIFE WAS GOOD.

Imagine, not facing those related fears or anxieties, thinking you’d finally beat them and that you were truly happy. Only to have your world turned upside down, not only by the actions of another but by the uncovering of beasts you thought you’d already beaten.

We all have layers. And every one of those layers is our responsibility. My insecurities, how they show up in the world and the actions they cause (deliberate or not) are my responsibility. As your insecurities are yours to own.

Having been on the delivering end of, we’ll just call it “baggage,” I would ask for forgiveness. Sometimes, a lot of times, it has nothing to do with you. You are the innocent bystander. Having also been on the receiving end of another’s “baggage,” I have found great value in seeking to understand. Just as Seabiscuit’s owner recognized that there was more going on with Pollard than being fouled in a horse race, if we seek understanding first and react second, we are then in a position to do a great service to another.

We’ve been given the capacity to forgive. To show compassion, empathy, to have perspective. We have the ability to not only have conscious thoughts but the ability to analyze them. Don’t let that go to waste. Not on yourself, not on those around you, not on a complete stranger.  

Be more concerned with understanding someone rather than only seeing how their actions affect you. Do this, and you may move from being an innocent bystander to being a part of changing someone’s life.