I’m writing this fresh off an eight-hour stint in a minivan with my wife, three little girls and our new four month old puppy named Scout. Jealous?
Three hours in things could not have been better. Only one pitstop whose efficiency would have made any Nascar driver proud.
Around hour five, the estimated time of arrival in our GPS began to go backwards. Instead of counting down, it began going up. First five minutes, then ten, then thirty. A sure sign of traffic ahead.
As we began moving slower, tensions ran proportionally higher. One daughter frustrated because we were out of gold fish, another vehemently insisting that 2x2x2 equals six. Shortly after, she asked us to define religion. Our answer was unsatisfactory.
Then the puppy became restless – trying to chew his way out of his travel case. Settling down only when he was able to begin gnawing on my hand instead. More snapping ensued – between children, between parents, between children and parents and of course, between Scout and his travel case.
During this time, my wife checked online and discovered that there was indeed an accident ten miles ahead.
And then came the calming grace of perspective.
Years ago, I saw a picture of a billboard that read, “You are not IN traffic. You ARE traffic.”
Often times we have a tendency to diminish our role in the problems surrounding us. Sociologists call this a form of “self-serving bias.” When someone else is late to our party it is because they weren’t disciplined enough to give themselves enough travel time. When we are late to their party, we just hit traffic.
All around us there are problems that frustrate us – from the personal to the political. In every single one of them, there is a contribution that has our name on it. It could be apathy or ignorance, close-mindedness or self-righteousness or any other self-serving bias that makes us feel good about pointing the finger at someone else. In traffic vs. being part of the traffic.
As we approached the accident site, we could see the crushed vehicles, the flares, a fire truck, and the ambulances. But we also saw the unforgettable faces of the people, freshly loaded on their gurneys. Their look was unmistakably one of shock – wondering what the hell just happened.
After all just moments earlier, they were just one of us – presumably fellow Thanksgiving travelers trying to get back home.
There is no way of knowing what caused the accident, that caused our traffic, but in all probability it is something that we have done one time or another – traveling too fast, cutting someone off, stopping short, being temporarily distracted by a child or a puppy or a text.
So the next time you’re in a jam – traffic or otherwise. Try this. Instead of a pointing a finger, think hard about what role in that jam could be yours AND take a close look to see who is really hurt by what happened.
It’s amazing how quickly frustration and anger can turn into humility and compassion.