Driving to a networking meeting early one morning in January, I saw two kids standing at the side of the road, waiting for the school bus. The little girl was swinging her book bag in an arc as wide as her arm would allow while the boy stood stark still, a look of determination on his face as the longest strap of her bag cut through the air just in front of his torso time and again. The little girl stepped slightly forward, closing the tiny gap between the strap and the boy. Another small step and the strap grazed him.
That’s when he tackled her.
It was a familiar moment for me. Not the details; I never once got into a bus stop fray. The familiar part was where he stubbornly held a meaningless patch of earth, likely due to the buildup of years of conflict, countless moments of feeling powerless, and the mysterious arrival of the feeling, “I have had enough.”
And while this little girl no doubt knew exactly what she was doing, and the likelihood that she would soon feel the literal force of his breaking point, most of us engage in our stubbornness against seeming-opponents who are just going about their business, oblivious to how they might be affecting those around them.
The family member who never reaches out and yet can be counted on to start conversations at family gatherings with, “Why don’t you ever call?” is likely not intending to be provocative but rather is making an awkward attempt at showing interest.
The coworker clipping her nails at her desk is working from a different set of social norms.
And yes, my favorite of all examples, the person driving like they have fire ants in their undies has 99% of her attention focused on her destination and the clock, leaving only 1% of it for the rest of the folks on the road.
It’s easy to talk response instead of reaction when everything is going swimmingly. When our personal space is threatened, literally or figuratively – when push-back or even punishment feel all sorts of reasonable or even justified – is when we get to actually engage with the theory.
Like that little boy with his feet planted firmly on that one frosty bit of earth, I sometime want to box those drivers in, prevent them from making the progress they’re so frighteningly determined to make. I want to engage with this battle for meaningless patches of road, a battle I believe the other driver has started, a battle in which I see myself as a righteous warrior on the side of safer driving… and yet in that very sentence comes the ironic reality that by battling, I’ve given up all of the ground I might have held. By engaging, by being reactionary, I’ve made us all less safe.
And that’s on me.
I endeavor to take a step back when someone is swinging her book bag at me.
I endeavor to ease off the gas and give those drivers a wide berth.
I endeavor to respond, not react, and though sometimes, that might be hoarded by rotten drivers and bus stop bullies as their victory, I endeavor to give them that hollow satisfaction as more than ample payment for the wee little step toward my best self that I gained in the deal.
I endeavor to save my energy, my determination, and my focus for the battles truly worth fighting. We’ve got plenty of them happening, friends; let’s keep our eyes on the real prizes.