Monday, April 13, 2009

Navigating from a wider perspective

I had a couple of disturbing experiences on the road lately and thought it might make good fodder for the blog.

I was riding in the car with my spouse and we came to a red light. CB signaled to make a right hand turn. When the light turned green we waited for a kid on a bicycle to cross in front of us. This was not only the polite thing to do, it is also the law in all 50 states. However, the vehicle behind us honked its horn in indignation. Either the driver behind us didn’t see the child, or felt we should race and make our turn before the kid could start to cross the street.

Then, a few days later, I was merging to exit the freeway. When I was on the off ramp, I could see the cars in front of me were braking. I wasn’t exactly sure what the problem was, but I knew better than to race to find out. I gently slowed down to better access the situation. This really angered the guy in a truck behind me. He not only honked, he flipped me off as well.

In both cases, the drivers were more interested in getting to their destination than driving safely and avoiding an accident. They aren’t bad people per se (although if their actions are indicative of how they navigate the highway they probably aren’t the best drivers). However, in both cases the drivers were guilty of making rash judgments based on a narrow perspective.

This limited perspective isn’t limited to driving. During Easter dinner my daughter, Brittany, who is studying interior design, mentioned how she was learning about fabrics, their flammability and why different textiles were better for different environments such as hospitals, child care facilities and nursing homes. Not only was she learning about the safety of materials, they also had to take care in their use of terminology. She mentioned they had a guest speaker from the American Disabilities Association. Brittany showed us ADA preferred language with examples such as using the term wheelchair user, not wheel chair bound etc.

What ensued was a discussion on political correctness and using language that is sensitive to others. As in a lot of discussions of this nature, there usually seems to be at least one person who objects to political correctness. In this case it was my son-in-law. He’s a nice enough fellow, but as a healthy, straight, white, Christian, male, I’m sure he’s not encountered a lot of discrimination. It’s not that he’s insensitive to the needs of the disabled, ethnic minorities, gays, Jews, gypsies or any other group that faces discrimination, he just can’t relate to it.

Since most of us tend to judge events based on our own lives, it can make feeling compassion for others who are different from us, harder to understand. And since we tend to hang out with people who look like us, share our religion and political views, we tend to continue to view the world from a narrower perspective. However, as my mother taught me (and probably your mother as well) you really can’t understand someone else’s situation until, as the aphorism states, you walk a mile in their shoes.

So, when traffic is slowing, don’t try to honk someone into driving faster and endanger innocent lives. When two out of three lanes of traffic have slowed, or come to a halt, don’t barrel throw the open lane as quickly as you can. There might be a road hazard, an animal or a person on the street that is just out of your view.

Why not slow down a bit and try a safer more prudent approach? The same is true whether on the highway, or in life. When things don’t match up the way you’d like, take a moment to see things from another perspective. Or before judging someone else, try to use the old “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” approach. And not just for compassion’s sake. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and have their shoes. Only kidding….

1 comment:

Doctor of Podiatry Discusses and Recommends Shoes. said...

Lovely article! I enjoyed reading it and I sometimes wonder how many of those aggressive drivers aren't under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or just good old-fashioned anger/frustration. To control my own anger toward aggressive drivers, I play a mind-game where I imagine that they are suffering some horrible home life situation (not that I wish that on anybody!) and it helps me feel more compassionate and less angry toward them. It really works!