Monday, November 23, 2009

The Most Social Thing You Do...

If you're like many people there is a high probability that the most social thing you do in any given day isn't something you expect.  In fact, the thing that causes you to interact with the most people - potentially making them happy, upset, or angry, and in which they can have the same impacts on you - is something you think you do when you think you're entirely alone.  Any ideas?

It's driving.

A typical commute to work involves interacting with hundreds of people through a set of mostly agreed upon rules, but with a faceless anonymity that lets everyone violate those rules without feeling the repercussions in the way they would if they did something similar in person.

How many of us willingly cut in front of others in line at the store?  If we turn a corner and nearly walk into someone we apologize, right?  Even if it isn't our fault.  These habits help keep society working relatively smoothly.  They reduce tension and lessen hostility.

But we all do stupid things while we're driving  - both inadvertently and deliberately - with astounding regularity.  And those actions affect others.  Don't believe me?  Just look at how others impact your driving.  When was the last time you got through a commute and weren't frustrated by someone?  Perhaps they were too slow or too fast, weaving in and around traffic, lane splitting on a motorcycle while traffic was moving at the speed limit, or just in your way while you were in a hurry.  You get the idea.  Almost every day I commuted to work I remarked to myself on someone doing something that annoyed me, and I know I'm not alone.

In truth I'm sure that some of the time I was equally annoying to others.  I also was moving at the wrong speed for someone else's taste, and so on.  Statistically it has to happen, and as a practical matter I know it did.  How many times have you looked in your rear view mirror to find someone sitting just inches off your bumper, impatient to get around you?  Regardless of whose fault it really is, you know they're blaming you.

So, the next time you're behind the wheel, think for a moment.  Ask yourself if something you're doing - while you're "alone" in the car - is something you'd do in person, where you'd have to talk to others as a result.  It's an interesting exercise.

That awareness won't fix conditions on the road, of course.  We're all human after all, and we all do stupid things, but it may give you a bit more patience with others and let you arrive at your destination less stressed out.