I have a tendency to tap my brakes a little harder than usual when someone is following too closely behind me. The young driver behind me apparently thought I was the only thing between him and the most important destination of his life.
He threw his hands up, most likely assuming I was just unnecessarily slowing down, not picking up on the subtle signal of, “You better get off my tail.” With both hands raised, he shouted and contorted his face. He then whipped it over into the next lane to try to gain ground.
He didn’t. He didn’t go anywhere forward, in fact, because we were driving in traffic, and cars cannot be driven through. He actually slowed himself down even more by changing lanes from behind my car.
As we continued to travel down the same road, I noticed he was following way too closely to the car now in front of him. In similar form to what I did, they dramatically slowed down as if to say, “Stop following so closely.”
He exploded again. I could see the exact reaction as before from my side view mirrors. This kid was completely unaware of the fact that he was the only one driving unacceptably. I’m sure he just thought the rest of the world was opposed to the direction he wanted to go.
I laughed and laughed as this all unfolded. As I turned off the busy road towards my office, I thought about what I witnessed moments before. I started thinking about what was at the core of the issue. Why would someone get that worked up?
Have you ever met someone who constantly complains about people being rude, coworkers being crazy, circumstances not going the way they want? They don’t say it out loud, but it’s like they’re saying the world is out to get them.
Meanwhile, the common denominator at the root of all the dysfunction is them. That’s not a new idea, but I think it describes exactly what the young driver was dealing with. It points out a question he certainly wasn’t asking himself and something I so often have to come back to.
What if I’m the problem?
If everyone else is moving in the same direction. If I’m the only one that sees obstacles. If it’s always me in the victim position of a situation. If I run into the same stories over and over again. If I found myself viewing those around me as road blocks and not fellow travelers...
Maybe I’m the problem.
The answer won’t always be yes, but I believe it’s a healthy practice to ask the question, a self-enforced checks and balances, because we often only see what we want to see. It creates an awareness that suggests the subtle brake tap in front of us is actually a friendly reminder to ask, “Am I the problem?”