Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A heart for kindness

           It is clear that because of the separation and anonymity of car driving, we've come to feel that we don't have to treat people in other vehicles as people.  They are either "idiots" who don't move out of our way or they are "maniacs" who drive even more insanely than we do.  I've seen way too many people swerving around, honking at and yelling at other people in their cars this last week.  And so I've started the exercise of watching with my kids.  Does that swerving around and cutting the other person off actually end up saving the unkind driver any time at all?  Again and again we see the answer is "no".  They swerve around a person only to be stopped behind someone else at the next light.  They've managed to "get ahead" by one car space, but that half second won't make a difference if they are late. If their behavior made any difference at all, it was a negative one: it may have upset the person they swerved around, it may have hurt the feelings of the person they flipped off or called an idiot.  It may have succeeded in spreading rage and anger, and may have inspired equally unkind car behavior on the part of others. We've seen too many almost-accidents and it is very clear that it actually is life threatening in many cases, not only to the "other" in that car, but also to the person with the unkind car behavior.  Each time I wonder how much effort it would take to simply breathe and remember that the person in that other car may be a new mother, may have a child or two in the car, may be a grandparent, may be a teenager just learning to drive, may be someone who lost their spouse that day, may be someone who has just been given bad news about their own health, may be someone who lost a job or may be worried about a hundred other things and, whatever their circumstance, would undoubtedly benefit from kindness in this moment rather than the anger, rudeness and rage thrown their way.
        I will say honestly that my time in Ohio changed the way I drive.  Coming from the Bay Area, I thought everyone just drove this way, with an assertiveness that is actually aggression.  But in living in Ohio, I saw people intentionally let other people into their lanes.  I saw people slow down and let other cars merge with them, just because that was the kind thing to do.  I saw people practicing taking turns, and teaching their kids about sharing not only toys, but the road we drive on, without anger or rancor or rage.  Now that I'm back in the Bay Area, I continue to practice this way of driving, though it feels like I am a fish swimming up stream.  In dropping my kids off at school this morning, I saw a woman who was trying to turn onto the street where all of us were dropping off our kids.  Even though we were moving extremely slowly, I saw car after car block her ability to join our line.  "Really?" I thought.  "How is it helping you to not let one car in ahead of you?  Are you really in such a hurry that that half second will make all the difference in your day?"  So I slowed down, indicated that she should come in ahead.  I saw the look of sheer relief on her face as she mouthed "thank you!" and waved.  But the car behind me?  You'd think I had just thwarted his winning of an Olympic gold medal in race car driving.  Honk!  Honk!  Honk!
        What does it do to our hearts to practice being unkind in our cars?  And what does it do to our hearts to practice kindness occasionally instead?  How does our refusal to share the road with other drivers impact the way in which we share with others in all aspects of life?  If it is this easy to see the person in front of us behind their steal and glass vehicle as not-human, as sub-human, as unworthy of our caring and our sharing, how much harder will it be to share with people we've never met?  If it is so easy to label and box the other person in their car as an idiot or maniac rather than as a human being, how easy then is it for us to demonize and vilify whole categories of other people that we don't know?  Immigrants, refugees, people of color, people of different sexual orientation or genders, people with disabilities, older people, younger people, poor people, homeless people, people with mental disabilities and illnesses, people of other faith traditions, OTHER people?  I think the place we have moved as a country, this place of fearing others, of not wanting to share our land, our resources, our health care, our humanity... I think this starts with a very basic inability to share with those we encounter on a daily basis.  If we took seriously the kindergarten lesson about sharing, how would all of this change?
            Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite Bible passages.  It is simple.  It is straightforward.  My translation: What does God require of you but to do justice, love being kind, and walk humbly with God.  But we've come to a place of such fear around losing what we believe is "ours" that we fail in these very simple tasks, the simplest one of all being to act with kindness.  We have opportunities every single day to practice sharing the road (as well as other things) with those we encounter.  It may not be an easy thing to do in the face of the road rage out there, but again, I believe it is an opportunity for us to change our own hearts by practicing kindness, practice sharing, practice loving behavior towards strangers, towards your neighbors in this very simply, very easy way. Try it for a week.  See if it affects you for the better.  At the very least, it should lower your blood pressure to not be in such a stressed out hurry on the road.  At the most, perhaps it will help all of us grow bigger hearts for kindness.  And that could change everything.