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?