I try really hard not to be an asshole driver.I have always felt that the measure of a person was in how they treated people when they didn’t really have to be nice. Online, behind the wheel, dealing with service people, what have you. Once when I was sixteen and just leaning how to drive I leaned out of the window and screamed at a girl who was walking down the street and just happened to be crossing in front of my granddad’s driveway. Twenty six years later my shameful behavior still haunts me. I never knew who she was, but if I could find her I would certainly apologize. As it is that display of stupidity has probably led me to be ever more conscientious with the thousands of folks who have come after her. I hope she would consider it a fitting tribute.
Also playing a role was the example set by my ex-father as I grew up. He is an angry, belligerent man, unfailingly rude and spiteful to anyone he felt he had the slightest power over, (which included his family) and brightly sunny towards those he did not. My siblings and I have watched him be offensive to so many waiters and waitresses that we eventually nicknamed him “the Spittoon”.
Over the past couple of days I have been witness to two incidents of casual rudeness. I was tailgated and then flipped off for driving only five miles above the speed limit and then arriving at my destination, (which necessitated my slowing down to turn) and later passed (without a passing lane) and cut off… causing me to swerve into the wrong lane for an instant… by a woman I saw moments later when I arrived at the grocery store. (Our eyes met as she passed and I got a very good look at her.) I made certain to act as neutral as I could when I asked her if she felt her groceries were important enough to endanger my life. Although I never got an answer to my question, I did get some satisfaction as she hurriedly strode from the store, leaving her half-full cart of food behind.
For me the decision to be nicer came from me looking for self respect. I was pretty much a dick as a teenager and young man, and when I got old enough to notice, I realized I didn’t much care for myself. People I did like and respected however, were people who were generous with their smiles and time and attention, not just to the people on whom they depended, but also to people they hardly knew. I am a suspicious person by nature, and I think it takes a very special kind of bravery to be open with everyone you meet. I don’t have that kind of bravery yet, but I’d sure like to.
I wonder now, as I sit and write, what the people I met on the road think of themselves, if they even do. Was this their sixteen year old moment, as they are feeling the edges of their personality, trying to define who they really are? Or are they angry and bitter inside, acting out against a world that might otherwise not even notice them? (They were both considerably older than sixteen, but I imagine that moment can happen at any time.) Do they like themselves? Are they proud?
I am certainly not perfect. Lena corrects me all the time when I say something to someone, frequently without meaning to… but not always, that comes across as aggressive or mean spirited. I do try, but she’s a good barometer of my success — or lack thereof. I honestly expect I will go to my grave without ever really getting it right, and that’s okay. As long as I’m trying to improve I at least know my intentions are in the right place, and that’s enough to satisfy my own standards.
Although if you’re a dick to me first I’ll probably try and run you over.