I was driving home from a late-night pickleball battle. Once a week I’m able to go out after the kids have gone to bed and get what some would consider exercise. We play from 9 pm until that moment when a ball is flying toward your face at 75 mph and the lights suddenly shut off. That ball you were about to cram at the other team disappears and pegs you in the eye, which tends to be precisely at 11 pm.
This past week, my partner and I crushed it. Undefeated. The freeway was mostly empty on the ride home and I was listening to an audiobook while contemplating the mysteries of the universe. It was a good night.
I’ve driven this route so many times that my brain and body are on a form of autopilot as I drift onto the off-ramp, following a car that seems to be going slower than my liking, but what’s the rush?
The off-ramp lane merges to the right and into another set of lanes that head toward my house. The far-right lane doesn’t have a stop light or stop sign so the car in front of me and I should just be able to maintain our cruising speed and continue on our merry way.
I saw the brake lights go on and I assumed they were just slowing down a bit to glide through the turn at less than the 5 Gs I normally try to achieve at this particular turn, giving me the opportunity to pretend I’m a race car driver.
I assumed incorrectly.
He must have been an idiot.
Rather than reading the many signs informing the world that our lane doesn’t need to stop, this guy decides this is a good place to slam on his brakes.
I wasn’t tailgating, but the sudden stop meant I had to react quickly, otherwise I was going to end up in his back seat… while still in my front seat.
Luckily, my reflexes have been fine-tuned over several years of children throwing things at each other and at me. I have years of catching these same kids as they tripped over sidewalk cracks, fall off bikes, and attempt to spill every bit of food or drink all over my nice pants and shirt. I had been preparing for this moment my whole life.
I slammed on my brakes and had to veer to the left of the sedentary vehicle in front of me. I laid on the horn, rattled of some words I shouldn’t repeat, and was ready to start ascribing every adjective representing a person of low IQ to this guy.
I had heard of people who try and get people to rear end them in attempt at getting insurance money, and I was sure this was what was happening.
I stopped so close to this car’s rear bumper that I could tell you the ID on the license plate decal and see the flaws in this car’s bumper paint (probably from other victims he had lured into an accident).
The driver and his car just sat there motionless for an inordinate amount of time. I started thinking he was going to throw his car in reverse and try to back into me, or worse, get out of his car and try to murder me.
Let’s be honest here, I’m not super tough, so if someone is going to try and murder me, they are 100% going to succeed in murdering me.
As my life is flashing before my eyes and I’m considering recording a final message to my family using my phone’s voice recorder, something moves in front of my murderer’s car.
I was the idiot
At 11:30 at night, at this particular crossing of a freeway off ramp and side street, a father was on his bike, escorting his daughter across this intersection. The guy in front of me was no crazy, insurance fraud, murderer. He had narrowly avoided taking the life of these two people.
His awareness, and the fact that he wasn’t texting and driving or distracted enough to miss two random people riding their bikes in the dark of night, meant that four of us avoided a potentially deadly accident.
In the matter of seconds, I went from autopilot, to rage, to certain death, to gratitude, to embarrassment, and finally, to reflection.
We like to judge people, including ourselves
“We tend to judge others by their behavior, and ourselves by our intentions.”Stephen M. R. Covey or Albert F. Schleider… I’ve seen both attributions
If you’ve ever driven in Utah, I think you’d agree that this quote is pretty accurate.
I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times I was sure the other drivers were out of their minds (to put it mildly) as they wandered into my lane, cut me off, or (the most unforgivable) were only going the speed limit in the fast lane of the freeway.
“We all know that the fast lane speed limit is 15-20 mph faster than the posted speed limit!” I shout while shaking my head and throwing my hands in the air as I have to pass these fools on the right.
Admittedly, I have also caught myself accidentally wandering into a lane I shouldn’t, cutting someone off, and yes… only going 5 mph above the speed limit in the fast lane with an absurdly-lifted truck riding me waaaaay too close.
“He must be overcompensating for something.”
Isn’t it interesting that every time I make a mistake driving, I sheepishly mutter, “I’m sorry” in my car and try to avoid any eye contact as the person I’ve wronged drives next to me… slows down so they don’t pass me… and stares me down for a couple seconds? my gaze is fixed directly in front of me, or away from the other driver as I admire the beautiful scenery out that window and not the window nearest to this other person.
I tell myself it was just a stupid mistake and that I’m going to focus better.
“I’m still an excellent driver!”
“Everyone makes mistakes sometimes!”
“I’ve already confessed my sin and experienced the process of repentance!”
“I’m a good person, I promise!”
However, anytime someone wrongs me on the road, I’m certain they hate puppies, probably stole the car their driving, and should be locked up because they are clearly a threat to society based on their behaviors.
Caitlin’s brilliant idea
Caitlin has this genius idea that I think would actually solve a lot of road rage. Also, if any investors out there want to make several dozen dollars, let me know, we can make this dream a reality.
She wants someone to invent a sign that goes in your car and can light up.
The sign has two messages.
1. I’m genuinely sorry about that. I’m an idiot.
This way, if you made a mistake… and you know you made that mistake… and you want that person you’ve wronged to know that you know you’ve made a mistake… you can just switch on the “I’m genuinely sorry about that” message.
Think of how many incidents of road rage could be eliminated! All the wronged driver wants is validation that the person who just wronged them is sorry and acknowledges their mental and physical ineptitude.
At the 2nd sign?
Well… we all wish we could make sure the other person knows exactly how we feel when they’ve wronged us…
Move out of the fast lane!
*Switch on message #2
Here’s where I’m going with this…
The next time you feel someone has wronged you, whether that’s a boss, a coworker, a client, your kid’s little league coach, or someone on the road based on their behaviors, and before you go assuming or ascribing intent, take a second to process your emotional reaction.
You have a few options in front of you during this second of processing.
- Understand that this person made a genuine mistake and knows he or she made a mistake, but is embarrassed to come out and admit it.
- Understand that this person may be completely ignorant to how they wronged you.
Their wrongful behavior wasn’t intended to hurt you. It was simply a result of their lack of mind-reading ability and them being unable to understand every past event that has shaped your character and mental outlook on life, analyzing that complex information, and then behaving in a way that was guaranteed not to offend you.
- Or… Know for a fact that they are not only the most selfish person in the world for taking that last Costco taquito sample, but they are also complete morons and they most likely fully intended to ruin your entire life and the lives of your family, posterity, and the United States of America when they did that.
I know what you’re thinking… It’s ALWAYS #3, isn’t it?
This world is full of people.
Like, 7.5 billion of them.
Each one brings with him or her a different set of principles, values, beliefs, and histories. We’re all wandering through life trying to do the best we can.
We have all wronged someone else. It is easy for us to justify our crappy behavior with our intention to do something good. The problem is, people can’t know your intention, so they have to infer it based on your crappy behavior.
Sometimes, you will experience intentional ill-will from others toward you. This sucks. These situations are unpleasant and hopefully don’t happen to you often.
But, I think, more often than not, the majority of interactions we have that leave us a little perturbed, or upset, or offended aren’t intentional ill-will at all, but instead, a misunderstanding of observed behavior and impossible-to-know intent.
With all the potentially inflammatory issues out there, let’s remember that everyone else’s reality is just as equally intense, valid, and legitimate as our own.
It make look like they are completely ignorant to the signs you see that they don’t. But maybe, just maybe, they are slamming on their brakes because they see something you don’t. And maybe, their seemingly irrational behavior is actually saving the life of someone else.
Last thing, and it’s a quick tip:
If you want to know someone’s intent after they’ve said or done something… ask them. It might clear things up for both of you.
P.S. If I have wronged or offended any of my 7 readers, just remember, it was probably on purpose.