Have you ever driven behind someone who swerves erratically, changes lanes willy-nilly and appears to be constantly leaning over to the passenger side groping for something? You’re thinking, “Sheesh, what an idiot! Does he/she realize how dangerously he/she is driving? And why the heck don’t they pull over to find whatever it is they’re looking for?!” And you get even more irritated because they are in front of you.
It’s easy to take it personally, as if they have been set right down in front of you just to ruin your day. Chances are, they don’t realize what they’re doing, much less if what they are doing endangers others. They are probably juggling stuff in their minds as we all do, but doing it on the road (where you really want to keep your mind as uncluttered as possible).
How about the kid on a skateboard with his hat on backwards wearing gigantic headphones, perfectly oblivious that he is causing a major backup on a side road? What about the exhausted-looking parents who bring all four screeching kids into the restaurant you came to for a quiet dinner? Or my favorite; the older lady in front of you at the salad bar at Sapphire Sundays, shuffling along and s-l-o-w-l-y picking out each and every lettuce leaf, green pea, carrot shred, sliced black olive, chopped mushroom and so on–carefully and artistically placing every single item on her plate while your stomach snarls audibly.
Well, here’s the deal: the poor things really do not realize what they’re doing is annoying or inconveniencing anyone. They are in their own little world and not thinking of you or me–just themselves and their immediate thoughts and needs. They, like us, may be worried about a sick child, or are dealing with aging parents, their job, too many bills and not enough cash, and who knows what-all else. We really can’t know what’s going on in someone’s head or what their story is; all we see is what they are doing and how it affects us.
I’m not saying this to excuse bad or dangerous behavior. Also I’m not perfect and I’m pretty sure I’ve ticked off plenty of drivers behind me who have wished that I was ANYWHERE but in front of them. I laugh my head off when the Crankee Yankee (my husband) is driving: when someone creeps up too close behind him, he/she is a jerk. When someone is too slow in front of him, he/she is an idiot. I’ve tried pointing out that other drivers may feel that same way about him, but it doesn’t seem to register…..
The bottom line is, those who make us angry on the road, in line at the grocery store, in a restaurant or wherever are really not out to give us a bad day. They are in their own world, doing what makes sense to them. We may not agree, but understanding that what they do is truly not personal may take the sting out of our knee-jerk reactions. I learned to look at people in a whole new way when I left New England for the first time in my life. At the time, I was married to my first husband, and he got a job in North Carolina and we found a house just over the line to South Carolina.
Living in the Carolinas for a few years changed my views on people, and I discovered a whole new lifestyle that changed my attitude forever. I was born in Maine, and grew up in New Hampshire, and the pace for us Easterners is usually pretty fast. We don’t waste a lot of time with idle pleasantries or chit-chat–basically we want to get out, do our stuff and get back home STAT. So moving down South was an eye-opener to me. These folks just love to talk and talk, and nothing goes fast down there. If you bought a carton of eggs, a head of lettuce and a jug of water it could take up to 20 minutes to ring up and get out. I’ll admit it took some time, but gradually I stopped being angry that these genial folks were not responding to my Northern impatience. Nothing I said or did made them move any faster. I finally accepted the pace and then grew to enjoy it. They have a saying down there that I love which applies to the people who aggravate us in so many ways: “Bless their hearts; they just don’t know any better.” And then they would laugh. Amazing how that cleared the air!
So, that’s my response these days. Just saying that simple and funny phrase out loud does wonders for my mood. I even have my own voice for that phrase and I use it each time I say it. I conjure up dear old Minnie Pearl (from the Grand Ole Opry–remember? She always had on a hat with the price tag flapping off it, and would look straight at the camera and yell “HOW-DEEE!”) and say in her Southern-fried accent, “bless their hearts, they just don’t know any better!”
Try it out. You’re alone in your car and no one’s listening. Go ahead–you’ll feel better!