February 27, 2019

From the freedom of the road, to the rage that lurks within us all, our head of creative programmes, Liz Flynn, shares a tale of how a close encounter changed her perspective of her daily commute.

I drive about 300 miles a week. Not an unusual amount, and not an unusual route, I am simply a commuter like any other; pushing to and from work through thick traffic, rushing for meetings,
dodging jaywalkers, getting frustrated with road works and staring at red lights for the second I can shoot off again. There never seems to be enough time to get places. Everyone is rushing,
everyone is late. Commuting is like pressing fast forward through the advert break of life – to get back to home, to go meet a friend, to drop off the kids.

We just do this rapid fire version of normal life; tumble in, chuck bags in the back, slap on the radio and go go go!  And sometimes, in this fast forward version of ourselves, we lose sight of normal social behaviour. As if somehow the travel doesn’t really count? Oh, that’s not the real me, that’s driving me. Because cars are interesting places. Bubbles. Little pods of radio chatter, with caffeine on the go and snacks you fumble to unwrap as you change gears. Places where you sing and talk to yourself and eat with your mouth open and watch the world around you whizz past, allowing you a freeing state of diminished responsibility; you’re outside, but inside. You’re present, but not engaging. Little travelling windows. And I guess through those windows- if you’re not careful- you can end up judging people a lot.

Without a doubt, on every single journey, on every single day, someone will do something stupid.” I overhead a guy say this as he walked ahead of me into a supermarket. This is one tired commuter. But I’m sure we’ve all been there; rolling our eyes, tutting or worse, as we zoom down the motorway. Maybe because someone did something we thought was stupid. And maybe it happened really suddenly, so we had to brake or dodge. So it felt too close…too personal. Maybe we’ve thought they did it deliberately? That they must think they are better than me! Well, I’ll show them!…..

It doesn’t really take much to get us all twizzled up with rage. We’re running late after all, and now we’re one driver behind. Plus we’re all jacked up on caffeine and sugar snacks and the radio is buzzing in our ears, it’s a pretty perfect storm for an adult temper tantrum.

But is there a way to drive with a bit more understanding; with kindness? When we are learning we are taught to predict drivers behaviour. It’s a safe and sensible approach to staying mindful of your own driving- watching for a late brake, or a sudden turning. So every time we get in the car we predict what the car in front of us will do, and we feel smug when they do it “I told you he was going to move lanes!” and equally, cross when they don’t.

But we also have to make a judgement call, a quick decision based on the information at the time. We think that we’re doing the right thing and occasionally it turns out we’re wrong. Mistakes happen. And statistically if like me you’re doing 50 miles a day, you’re going to be meeting a lot of other drivers. So statistically the chances of someone making a mistake are pretty high too. And of course, sometimes I’ve made those mistakes and you’ve made those mistakes, and we’ve cringed behind the wheel together. Is there not a way to allow for some kindness towards the driver in
front?

A little while ago I was driving across the city and nearly collided with someone on the roundabout; we both chanced on a gap and there wasn’t quite enough time. We slammed to a standstill, glaring furiously at each other across the roundabout. It was my friend.

Realising, I burst out laughing and waved, driving off shaking my head. Later we text each other memes of wide eyed awkward expressions, teasing each other on our driving skills, pointing the blame back and forth. How quickly my anger diffused because it was someone I knew. Because I know my friend is a great driver, that it was a small mistake, a lapse in judgement. And we didn’t collide, no harm done. And so on with my day.

Why would I not treat a stranger in exactly the same way?

Empathy and understanding have a hugely positive effect on our emotions, but we so rarely drive with this in mind, instead choosing judgements and assumptions that fuel a constant low level rage that we re-enforce with every journey. Is it not possible for us to drive with just a little more understanding, so that mistakes feel less personal, or less important. If we stopped rushing around so much we could allow a bit more space between each other too, so if mistakes happen we can react calmly. Perhaps we should stop driving with an expectation of everyone being perfect. Maybe instead we should expect to see at least 3 mistakes a day. We could even check them off, play a little game, make it competitive and to help pass the time. Something like I Spy the Error. Or y’know, Where’s Wally.

Photos: Karsten Wurth, Matthew Henry & Pawel Czerwinski (Unsplash)

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