We know how to get along on the roads. We can adapt safe driving ideas to inspire people to understand and respect others. Teach everyone to listen (yield), check biases (blind spots), and reject ideological rage (road rage).
Why do we need to teach people safe driving in the first place? Shouldn’t we know how to be nice to others, or at least behave without having to be told?
We’re not born knowing how to handle heavy, powerful, dangerous engines on wheels with seats. It’s exciting to drive fast and go places. Plus, sharing roads with others is challenging. It’s perfectly understandable that we get frustrated and upset on occasion. We need safe driving because we’re not perfect. We needs ways to manage the power, risks, and emotions involved in driving.
Likewise, a lot of power and destructiveness lie behind our words and ideas. We’re not born knowing how to handle differences. It’s easy to argue, insult, and hang on to our old, comfortable ideas. Plus, sharing our homes, work places, communities, and the planet with others is challenging. Social media and technology has given us even more power to express ourselves. We need a systematic framework to help us slow down, and learn how to understand and respect others.
Yielding is letting another driver go first, putting someone else’s needs first. Listening is putting someone else’s speaking, thinking, and feeling needs first. It is skillful and sophisticated. It is powerful because the things we’re capable of saying are powerful, but not always easy to say. If you have ever forced yourself to listen to your boss or client’s boring story, then you know the value of listening. If you don’t know how to listen when you’re not currying favors, then you need to learn how. And we all need to listen at least as often and as readily as we yield to others in traffic.
Many of us think we’re better than average drivers, and don’t improve as a result. Many of us think we’re decent, reasonable people, and don’t learn about our and society’s biases as a result. The first step therefore in understanding and respecting others is acknowledging our blind spots, our ignorance.
For example, I once overheard a teenage girl complain to her father at a department store, “I’ll wear it every day, okay!?” Clearly she wanted to buy something and her father didn’t want to pay for it. But a slightly different situation can also happen. A man can go into a store to buy a tool. His wife might object. In frustration, he might say, “I’ll use it every day, okay!?”
We often don’t understand our loved ones’ complex experiences and needs. If we don’t understand their needs, we naturally won’t support their purchases. If we don’t even understand our loved ones, then how can we assume we understand people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, creeds, and persuasions? If we don’t understand others, we won’t have reasons to support their efforts to reduce inequalities.
Fortunately, our buying experiences can also help us. We may covet, impulse buy, and hoard clothes and tools and other objects for different reasons, but not having the right clothes when you need them is just as frustrating as not having the right tools when you need them. It takes knowledge and creativity to know what clothes to wear in different situations. It takes knowledge and creativity to know tools to use in different situations. Experience in one allows us to understand the other (without changing our own behavior). Our rich experiences give us a personal and durable way to see ourselves in others, and to see the best in others. This newfound understanding and respect is the foundation for cooperation and creative problem solving.
Popularization of the term “road rage” allowed us to tame a destructive behavior. Popularization of the term “ideological rage” can also help us tame anger and hate over the discussion of ideas. In addition, the strengthening and conditioning of our perspective muscles will steel us against extremism. A culture of understanding and respect will move us away from divisive, hateful rhetoric.
Safe driving is proven and familiar. We can change people’s driving behavior. We can inspire people to understand and respect others. Next time you’re reminded to drive safe, remember those same sound principles can also help you get along with others.