Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"One Of Those Times"

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get to go to a conference for women at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. One of the speakers, Dean Hughes, told fantastic stories about about driving, how we perceive our own driving skills with those of others, and deciding now how we will respond when someone does something to upset us (like driving 25mph in a 25mph zone). His main points are in bold.

Everyone drives lousy sometimes. I am reminded of a time my husband and I were in Southern California visiting a friend at Lake Arrowhead. We were trying to get on the right freeway to San Diego and that particular stretch of roadway seemed to have half a dozen different freeways crossing paths. It was confusing to say the least. We were two or three miles away from where our exit was supposed to be when we started noticing cars in the right lane slowing down. We of course went right on by. No need to get caught up in whatever that slow down was.

Unfortunately, we realized too late that the queue was for our exit. Fortunately, we'd rented a car (which happened to have Georgia plates on it) and a kind soul took pity on us out-of-towners and let us in...after several unkind ones had made it clear we were not going to cut in front of them.

We felt dumb. We should have anticipated the line up was for our exit. We didn't. And we weren't trying to cut. But we did. And the truth of Dean's statement that we all cut off someone sometimes rang true to me.

Most drivers (76%) think their driving skills are above average. If we were really all that good then we wouldn't have near the number of collisions and mishaps that we do. Research has shown that this false optimism about our own driving skills increases the likelihood that we'll make risky driving decisions...because after all, our skills can handle it. Ha ha. The truth is that the vast majority of us are average drivers.

Our response is important to our thoughts and sense of self. Sometimes, I call other drivers names relating to their lack of intelligence because they did something dangerous. And occasionally if the offense was particularly bone-headed, I ask them (as if they can hear me) what driving school they went to (gasp!) or if they'd like my card. - ha ha. Except I'm usually not joking. When I judge others harshly, I am elevating my driving skills above theirs...which may not be an accurate portrayal of our regular driving behaviors. It's healthier, both mentally and physically, to be truthful to myself. I should abstain from making a personal attack (name calling) and instead feel grateful that I had enough time and space to appropriately handle the situation.

When a driver does something wrong, it's important to remember that perhaps "this is one of those times". One of those times when the other guy may be rushing to the hospital to say goodbye to a dying brother. Or one of those times when someone needs to get to their wife who's in labor. Or one of those times when someone's alarm didn't go off and they are rushing to catch a plane.

Dean Hughes also asked us the question if we'd ever berated someone's driving and later realize that we personally know that person. Ha ha. Yes, that's happened to me. More than once. At that point, thoughts leave the offense and move to what may actually be going on with the driver (like a new baby may be screaming or their daughter is getting married in the afternoon and they are probably rushing to get the preparations in order).

There are plenty of reasons why someone may temporarily drive poorly. When we give people the benefit of the doubt, we defuse a potentially volatile situation and keep our emotions in check. We don't have to let someone's bad driving ruin our day. Our positive and forgiving response can be emotionally liberating.

So next time we're upset at the way someone drives, let's calm ourselves down by verbalizing that this may be one of those times.

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