Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everyday Animosity

Most of us consider ourselves nice people. Most of us - there are a few out there who take pride in their outward bitterness toward the world at large, but I believe they're in the minority. But they are there - they know who they are. I've planned their meetings.

But most of us really do believe we are nice people. By "most of us" I include the woman who, on the morning commute, pretends to not see me, or my signal as she continues up the road in the adjacent lane, about three miles per hour faster than me. "Most of us" includes the jerk who gets in my lane, right ahead of me, in the ever-persistent quest to just - be - one - more - car ahead. Really dude, you saved like a second in travel time.

"Most of us" includes the guy who cuts me off to steal the last empty pump at the gas station. It includes the man clearly yelling, veins-in-forehead visible, at the traffic light. Anger at an electric light. Really.

Unfortunately, this list also includes I - who swears at these people as I drive to work every morning. And yet the moment I step into work, I forget about all of it. None of these instances occur to me throughout the remainder of the day - not one. We all do this, on some level or another. Had we met any of these people in casual face-to-face conversation, there would be no rudeness, no glares, no finger gestures, as it's entirely unacceptable to do this when there are not two car windows separating you. It becomes socially awkward to vent your feelings honestly, however brash they may be, when out of the car.

But once out of the car, the animosity doesn't end. Workplace gossip, (telling someone something about someone else, just for the entertainment factor, completely disregarding the outcome), workplace politics, and the general smearing of the names of the people many of us see more than out own families - I don't get it. But I think it's a manifestation of the same road rage.

A guest who walks through the lobby - they may have a mullet, or their jeans may be exposing a quarter-moon, or they may simply look out of place, are relegated to a piece of walking entertainment value. I've been guilty of the quiet laughter as well - but lack of compassion is still a form of animosity.

Getting off the phone with a client and rolling eyes; sticking a middle finger at the wall when an annoying co-worker leaves the room; sending an email dripping in sarcasm from your perspective, syrupy sweet from that of the reader's. I've been guilty of some (okay, maybe all) of these things, but I know I'm not alone in this. I also know that when I see these people, I am genuinely happy to see them. I want to help them. I want to figure out how I can make their day, in some cases their life, a little easier.

And yet we return to the evening commute. We've forgotten all about the angers of the morning commute. And we find new ones. And we go home, and begin our evening rituals - cooking dinner, watching movies, working an hour longer, whatever they may be. And not once do we consider the levels of animosity we've exhibited. We don't consider the casual disdain of our fellow human beings as anything other than general annoyance.

We might have a glass of wine, then go to bed, and wake up - beginning the cycle anew.

Casual anger doesn't feel harmful. Not to ourselves, not to others. I would argue the contrary on both ends. These little episodes add up, make light work of eroding our basic human compassion.

We're so caught up in our little worlds being inconvenienced by the likes of others, we forget that they may be experiencing the same. My client rolls her eyes when she hangs up the phone with me. As I'm extending my middle finger to the empty doorway, my annoying co-worker is rolling their eyes, wishing they hadn't had to come talk to me. The aspiring gossip-columnist in the office secretly wonders what everyone has to say about him/her. The woman who didn't let me pass was so worried about a meeting she had that day, or the potential to be laid off, or the fight she had with her husband that morning, she was not remotely aware of a turn signal.

I'm not saying we should all stop, think, and find a way to play nice, both internally and externally. We're human, so it's just not going to happen - not all of the time.

But if just once a day, when you're tempted to act out in aggression, however inconsequential and meaningless it might seem to you, try - just for a moment - to understand your target's perspective.

We might actually get somewhere, and the morning commute could be just a little easier.


Mandy said...

I actually think, on some level, we express our emotions in the safe enviroment of our vehicles because we can get our frustrations out without really having to confront anyone. All the frustrations of getting the kids off to school in the morning or all the frustrations that we encounter at work during the day. We can express these in the comforts of our own vehicle so by the time we get home we've alleviated some of those daytime struggles.

I don't know just a thought...

MissAudrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MissAudrey said...

Mornings - still tired, many on empty stomachs, coffee burnt mouths, feeling late/sad/lost/monotonous. It's a hard time for most people.