The Road Not Taken
Exit the main streets of Washington, D.C., and you’ll find yourself driving through narrow chutes lined with parked cars, wishing your ride was a Mini Cooper.
The same situation plays out in cities around the world, where buildings were constructed, and inner-city neighborhoods established, long before the rise of the automobile.
A few weeks back, my mother visited Washington, D.C. She found herself near Eastern Market, behind a delivery truck on one of those narrow, one-way roads. Just before the intersection, the truck pulled tight to the right and stopped for a delivery. This left Mom with three options: 1) hold her breath and try to squeeze between the truck and the parked car on the left side of the street; 2) back up and turn down the alley she’d just passed; or 3) wait for the truck to finish its delivery and then move forward.
She eyeballed the open space and decided to keep her side-view mirrors. She looked in her rearview mirror and saw an SUV pulling up and blocking the exit to the alley. She stared at the delivery truck driver and the number of packages on his dolley, and settled on waiting for his return.
The SUV driver had something different in mind.
He laid into his horn. First a few short beeps, then a long, drawn out beeeeeeeeeeeep—and then he got out of his car and started yelling at her. Mom rolled down her window and told him she couldn’t move, but he could back into the alley. He yelled, “You’re pathetic,” stomped back to his SUV, reversed at a high speed, and turned into the alley.
In his book Roads Were Not Built For Cars, Carlton Reid wrote:
Social scientists theorise that humans believe in three kinds of territorial space. One is personal territory, like home. The second involves space that is only temporarily available, such as a gym locker. The third kind is public territory, such as roads.
“Territoriality is hard-wired into our ancestors,” believes Paul Bell, co-author of a study on road rage. “Animals are territorial because it had survival value. If you could keep others away from your hunting groups, you had more game to spear, it becomes part of the biology.”
When they are on the road, some motorists forget they are in public territory because the cues surrounding them – personal music, fluffy dice, protective shells – suggest they are in private space.
“If you are in a vehicle that you identify as primary territory, you would defend that against other people whom you perceive as being disrespectful of your space,” added Bell. “What you ignore is that you are on a public roadway – and you don’t own the road.”
You are on a public roadway. You don’t own the road.
Imagine if the SUV driver had shifted his thinking to he and Mom as fellow travelers, instead of viewing her as an obstacle blocking his path, infringing on his world.
If you’ve ever been stuck behind a stalled car on the highway or a delivery truck on a crammed side street, you know that the worst position is the one directly behind the stalled car or delivery truck. You can’t move forward and often other cars block you from moving backward. If you’re on the highway, you might try nosing out into the next lane, knowing you’ll have to gun it before other passing cars reach you. If you’re on the one-way road, you have to hope the cars behind you back out so that you can move. You have the least amount of power, so you have to rely on those around you.
What if the SUV driver had thought about that, and instead of honking and yelling, had backed up right away and exited via the alley. What if his first thought was about helping two people instead of just helping himself?
Now think about the Internet and Earth.
The Internet is kin to Earth, and just like Earth, the people building upon it built some narrow roads. When they started building, they didn’t do it with Facebook and Amazon in mind—nor did they do it with every territorial issue in mind. No one said, “Let’s build another location to bully people.” Cyber-bullying evolved on its own, just as did road rage and other forms of territorial hatred and violence.
What Mom experienced on the streets of Washington, D.C., is something we’ve all seen play out online.
None of us own the Internet any more than one individual person owns all the public roads or the Earth itself, yet behavior indicates otherwise.
It’s got to stop.
I don’t spew hatred online, but I yell in my car when someone cuts me off—and my kids see it and hear it.
That’s one of my goals for 2018, to check my behavior and think about what’s going on in other cars, lives, and so on—to think about us, rather than me.
And just to tie this into marketing and doing/sharing our work, which is what this blog hits upon, there’s this:
As the SUV driver was yelling at Mom, she got a look at the identification tags swinging on the lanyard around his neck. The driver’s rapid movements kept the tag flipping, so she didn’t catch his exact name, but what if she had—and what if the government agency associated with the tag had received a phone call from her about the behavior of the SUV driver? And what if they knew that this behavior played out in front of my nine-years-old niece, too?
Being kind, thinking about others, focusing on we instead of I all the time, is good for your business.
One more thing: That negative behavior is a distraction. It will get in your head and in the way of your work.
Unfortunately, today it seems the road most traveled. It is the one of rage, and of horn blowing, and of yelling.
So if you find yourself in a yellow wood (or a street in Washington, D.C.), and find yourself with a choice. Choose the road less traveled. It will make all the difference.