I recently had a very frustrating driving experience that I’m sure many of you can relate to. I was driving in the left lane and knew I had to get over to the right lane quickly in order to be in the correct lane for an upcoming turn. I positioned myself in the space between the two cars on my right and turned my right turn signal on. I waited a few seconds and then began to ease my car into that space. It’s usually a tight squeeze but most of the time people accommodate by making the space a little larger and allowing you in. In this case the person behind me instead honked as I was partly over. I continued on over, as I had already started and needed to get over. I actually said to myself, “that’s why my turn signal was on, you knew I needed to come over”.
Well that wasn’t the end of the issue. This person then followed me for the next several miles, through several turns, flashing his bright lights at me. At first I felt frightened, then I became angry. Towards the end of it I actually stepped on my brakes twice with the thought of “take that”! I finally made a turn he didn’t follow and the situation ended.
But not in my mind, I just couldn’t get over how mad I was. I really wanted to figure out what was going on for me. After some contemplation I realized a few things were happening: I wanted to be sure I would be safe and I wanted some fairness (I followed the unwritten rules, you put on your turn signal, they are supposed to let you in. It happens everyday.) Yes, that was a big part of it, fairness.
Then I started working on what that other person wanted. I imagined they wanted to be seen. I really didn’t give them a choice, I moved on over into the space I saw. I wondered if perhaps I had waved my hand in appreciation if that would have helped?
And then I decided to go back and stay in the anger of the moment for a bit and imagine what I would have liked to have done. I imagined I had a gun, a big one, strapped across my chest, and I suddenly stop my car and get out and walk up to their truck and say: “Bring it bitch! What’s your problem now?” Oh, my god, that felt good! I felt such respect and safety! Now you have to understand that I’m a pacifist and I have a fear of guns. This whole imaginary scenario is nothing I have ever imagined before, and certainly wouldn’t approve of in real life. I was shocked at myself.
For the first time in my life I understood a person’s desire to have a gun. It just felt so good to be able to go up to someone and force him or her to respect me and stop doing what they were doing. It felt so easy. That was the need, ease. And then I realized what the seduction of force or power is; ease. Whether we are using our power as a parent, or whether we are using the power of war, we think it’s the easiest way to get what we want. The problem is, the easiest way isn’t always the best way.
In my imagination, I may think I’m getting respect and an agreement to do what I want by using a gun, but I can guarantee you the person in the truck will think I’m a crazy lady. With force you are making a demand, and that never leads to what you want. People naturally rebel against demands, and they can do it in the subtlest of ways. That’s what we tend to call “passive-aggressive”. What demands have you made lately? What has it cost you?
I wrote this before the shooting in San Bernardino. It still bothers me how satisfying my use of the threat of violence felt in my imagination. I believe we have been taught as humans that violence and the threat of violence are effective choices to situations in life. We say we will use violence as a last resort. Why a last resort?
Because we tell ourselves that although we don’t want to use violence, it will work. We will use it if we have to. That’s the lie. It doesn’t work. It may appear to get us what we want in the short-term, but there is always a long-term cost in forcing our way, making a demand. We are seeing this now in our world with terrorism. Until we can come to the understanding that everyone’s needs matter equally, and strive to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs, we won’t see an end to violence.
“In order to put aside our thoughts of right and wrong — if only
for the space of one conversation — we must be able to find
in ourselves a deep well of trust in the abundance of the
universe and in the fundamentally benign nature of human
needs.” Miki Kashtan
Top photo by Tim Forkes.
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.