Round about once a week, I drive a stretch of highway I deeply dislike in order to have meetings with folks I think the world of. It's a fair trade. Last week, I left a little earlier than usual and the highway was a little emptier than usual and I had moment, driving along, when I was fully appreciating the ease of that morning's drive, particularly in comparison to what I expected it to be.
It was just after that when I looked into my rear view mirror and saw a small pickup truck barreling toward me. I was in the fast lane behind a sedan behind a tractor trailer that was going just slightly faster than the tractor trailer it was passing. It was your standard rolling road block. I had a chance to move on over to the slow lane and took it. The fella in the little pickup truck drove, well, like you might expect given his speedy entrance. He cut from lane to lane with great enthusiasm and little warning, despite how apparent it was that there was nowhere to go. He drove close enough to the vehicles in front of him that a bare tap of the brake could have been enough to lump us all into one great pile of metal and confusion.
Is there not something about traffic that spurs our inner vigilante like nothing else? Yeah, a part of me wanted to box the guy in. Truthfully, I was riding next to him for a minute... until he almost whipped right into me as he was jockeying around. That was what I needed to remember myself and fall back.
Takeaway 1: I have a lot more control over my driving stress than I tend to think. When I slow down to disengage from grouped-up traffic, when I pull over and let a tailgater get around me, when I remind myself time and again, "I'll get there when I get there and no amount of rushing is going to change that in a meaningful way," I control what I can control and feel heaps better in the process.
And yes, that does require that I make it through the gatekeeper of my ego who feels like she deserves that stretch of road and who wants to teach the driver in the little pickup a thing or two.
I mean, clearly, the guy was a jerk. Or, as George Carlin said, he was a maniac and, following that line of reasoning, to him, the rest of us were idiots in his way.
Psychologists call that the Fundamental Attribution Error. When I'm driving in a tizzy, it's because I know I'm running late already and I have a huge meeting that I will ruin if I'm late and I really need this account because Suzy needs a surgery and the insurance will only cover the tiniest fraction of it and and and... When the guy in the little pickup truck is driving in a tizzy, it's because he's a flawed human being.
Takeaway 2: To be the person I want to be in this world, I need to work on noticing when I'm falling prey to the Fundamental Attribution Error and introduce humanity to my assumption. Perhaps the guy in the little pickup truck just got a call that his grandma, the one who hugged him tighter than anyone else and made his favorite cookies just the right way and always had time to listen, is in her final hours and he was racing to see her one more time.
Is that likely why he was driving like that? No. Is it possible? Yes.
Does it hurt me to believe he was racing toward his grandma?
Quite the opposite: There's no amount of compassion that leads to harm.
(Side note: I'm not saying I wouldn't have cheered if the guy had gotten pulled. He was driving dangerously, for himself and those of us around him. Having compassion doesn't mean accepting dangerous or mean behavior.)
At some point, the fella in the little pickup opened the sliding window in the back of his cab. I thought, "Yeah, I'd be burning up, too, if I was driving with so much stress." The sedan and then the tractor trailer that were in front of him found opportunities to move over and the guy pedaled-down to get to his grandma.
As he passed the tractor trailer, though, he took a moment to extend his arm fully out of the back window and flip off the driver. One long, premeditated, exaggerated finger bird. Yeah, he didn't open the window because he was hot.
Grandma's Little Soldier was enacting - with great flair, I might add - the story he was in which had to do with how people should drive, his rights to go fast, and the way we were impeding his progress.
Takeaway 3: We are all enacting our own stories all the time - about driving, sure, and about how people should interact and families should treat the holidays and, "Damnit, I'm a good person - I deserve a car/spouse/kid/raise/pat on the back."
I started to write, "Would that life were that fair; would that we all shared the same beliefs." But, oh! What a horribly boring existence that would be!
So, I'll offer these wishes instead:
That Grandma's Boy arrived at his destination safely, and that something gently knocks him upside the head that inspires him to reconsider his driving habits. Oh, and I hope that he got to his grandma in time for a final hug.
That you notice your imperfect humanness with more and more clarity and find with it an appreciation, even joy, in the wiggle room that imperfection allows.
You've got a ton to put into the world.
I've got some rad tools to help you make it happen.
And I've got a free sample coaching session so you can find out what they are. Email me to get it scheduled.