Category Archives: driving

Why is most everyone else a below average driver?

You know the people: it’s green, and they don’t move; they suddenly slow down to turn without using their blinker; they pass you, only to slow to a lower speed than yours; they slow down more than necessary for curves and crawl around roundabouts; they tailgate you and flash their highbeams even though you’re doing five above the limit.  You know the people.  And you might have wondered: why are there so many below average drivers?  Not necessarily dangerous drivers, but drivers who don’t think ahead, and don’t consider others, for all you can tell.

Why, indeed?  I don’t think I ever gave it much thought until I applied my, ahem, clearly above-average driving skills to looking like a below-average driver.  After a car ride that involved my wallet on the roof and other similar incidents or near incidents, it’s become painfully, odoriferously clear that our children do not deal well with curves unless they’re asleep.  The 90-minute drive to another family with young kids in particular without fail involves whining, stopping, and fresh air.  So this time we planned it with stops for fresh air, and plenty time for the drive.  And as I drove little old lady style around a bend, I realized that if the folks behind me were anything like my younger, childless self, they’d be muttering under their breaths about how some people just don’t know how to handle a car.

My younger self, for whatever reason, rarely if ever came up with another reason for slow driving than incompetence.  Kids close to throwing up?  Nope.  Spouse afraid of the drop-off?  Nope.  Distracted by a fight in the car or a fight before the drive?  Petrified because of a recent accident?  Weary and looking for a hotel after a long drive?  Nope, nope, nope.  Clearly below-average drivers, the lot of them.  Mutter mutter puddlebrains.

So, really, the reason most everyone else is a below average driver lies with me and my lack of imagination.  It’s simply easier to assume incompetence than to exercise my imagination to come up with a reason for that strange driving.  Without imagination, no empathy; without empathy, mutter mutter puddlebrains.  With my imagination engaged, on the other hand, empathy comes easily.

It scares me to see how easily I default into that assumption of incompetence, how lazy my imagination is.  It scares me even more to see how widespread a problem it is in the political arena.  We avoid the work of empathizing and instead assume ignorance and deploy sarcasm.  Witness the discussion around Brendan Eich’s resignation.  Witness, also, how roughly the same people who support the NSA gathering plenty of intelligence on US residents vehemently oppose intelligence gathering in connection with gun control, and conversely those that support gun control loudly protest the government listening to our phone calls.  Not only do they fail to see the tension between the positions they themselves hold, but they utterly fail to see how the people they denigrate actually share some of their most pressing concerns – albeit in the context of another political question.

I’m convinced that the prescription for both road rage and political rage is empathy, and I think I’ll start by giving my imagination workouts every time I’m tempted by an apparently lousy driver to mutter mutter puddlebrains.  With any luck, that’ll also make me a calmer, better driver myself.

Any other ideas on how to slowly build up the imagination and empathy muscles?

How Joseph threw up in the car and saved the day

Joseph had never thrown up in the car – until yesterday.

We were in Titterten (yes, that’s what it’s called), which is where you get if you turn left after Bubendorf and keep driving past where a reasonable person would build a settlement.  Nevertheless, a village is there, and in the past two friends and I had organized a yearly birthday grill in that area because one of us had grown up there and thus had the requisite connections.  And so it was no surprise she would have her wedding party in that same village – with plenty of yummy food and plenty of excitement (read: toys and other children).  Joseph ate quite well, particularly the salami and pretzel bread, and then entertained himself with Lego and balls while the music trio played Swiss and Israeli folk tunes on a hammer dulcimer, a violin, and double bass.

But all good things must come to an end, and we still had the drive to Emmen ahead of us.  We walked to the car, with a brief stop at the playground, and though Joseph had enough energy to go down the slide, he wanted to be carried to the car.  I held him and let him open the car by placing the mobility card over the reader, and then manoeuvered him into his car seat and buckled him in.  We were running just a tad later than anticipated, and it was beginning to rain, so I wanted to take the fastest route, which was over the hill down to Liedertswil and Oberdorf, down the valley through Niederdorf and into Hölstein, then across a lower hill to Diegten and onto the Autobahn.  I thought I was doing fine and not driving too wildly, but I suppose it was too wild a ride for a little boy holding a new toy up to his face and studying it intently in the dusk.  Somewhere between Hölstein and Diegten, just as the rain had increased, Joseph started complaining.  It sounded like ordinary complaining, but Janet turned back and exclaimed: “Oh no, Joseph!”

“Joseph threw up,” she said.  “We should pull over.”  We pulled over into the driveway of a farm – just ahead of the farmer and his family, who gave us strange looks as we stopped half off the driveway to let them pass.  By now it was pouring and they probably wondered who might be lured by their “plums for sale” sign in this weather.

Janet leaned back and started to clean Joseph off, but there was more of a mess than had initially seemed.  I couldn’t do much from the driver’s seat, so I figured at least I might get the umbrella from the stroller in the station wagon trunk and help a little through the door.  I ran to the hatch, stood underneath it for rain cover, and fiddled with the little umbrella to get it open.  Then I shut the hatch again, bowed my head against the weather, and opened Joseph’s door.  As I straightened up to hold the umbrella over the opening, I spotted something on the roof.

It was my wallet, sitting on the mobility card.  I had put them there when I put Joseph in his seat.

I’ll spare you the grisly details of cleaning Joseph up in the pouring rain, and instead offer a map of the road my wallet traveled.

Größere Kartenansicht

On yelling at cars

We’re studying the Sermon on the Mount at Bible Study these days, and the verses on murder we looked at two weeks ago have stuck a little longer than usual.  Here’s what Jesus said (v. 21-26):

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court.  And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Now, I usually think of myself as someone who doesn’t get angry often or easily, but that’s only as long as inanimate objects do what I want them to.  That includes cars, and by implication the person steering it.  We’ve been doing a bit of driving lately, mostly back and forth to Luzern, and I think I’m getting better, but I still excoriate drivers that don’t drive according to my standards.  I still treat them with contempt and disdain, and then end up having to apologize to Janet wo patiently endures because she knows I know she disapproves.

And with good reason, according to the above passage.  Although Jesus talks about being angry at a brother or sister, I don’t think he’s condoning anger at someone who isn’t, and even if he was, I’d have no way of knowing if the driver was a brother or not.  Besides, as Janet pointed out, even if the driver did do something stupid, the disdain in my voice will teach those in the car with me that I heap scorn and contempt on those who fail.  It is not enough to say I want my children to be able to talk to me about everything, nor is it enough to honestly desire that and be ready to gently and lovingly answer their questions.  If I teach them by yelling at cars that I have no patience for incompetence or failure, I will teach them to be afraid of talking to me whenever they have been (or believe themselves to have been) incompetent or failures.

I’m late, but I’m glad I’m learning this now, and I hope I can get it under control before Joseph understands what I’m doing.