I live in the London Borough of Lambeth. For some time all the roads in the borough have been the subject of a 20 mile per hour limit with very few exceptions. The neighbouring boroughs have a variety of rules, including some streets with a 20 limit, but none, as far as I can judge apply it universally.
It takes some getting used to. On narrow roads with parked cars on either side it feels fast enough but, especially at night on empty straight highways it feels almost like a penitence and it is easy to let your mph creep towards the former standard of 30.
Many don’t like it; some positively hate it. And this leads to far more confrontations than was customary before its introduction. Cars rush up behind, pressing close as if, by the simple expedient of air pressure being applied I will go faster. Lights are flashed, horns of differing levels of frustrations pressed and, occasionally madcap overtaking manoeuvres undertaken.
Sometimes I shrug, at others I growl, often a sense of my own superiority arises. What I struggle with is at these times is any sort of empathy and yet I too have felt that urge to go faster. It takes a degree of will power to avoid signing my thinking, offering a smug, knowing finger in response to their bubbling annoyance.
It’s all just so emotional. In the cold light of rational thinking, I grasp the essential truth that there are varied reasons why people react as they do. And me like likewise. I can empathise easily enough when taken out of the moment. When a calmer head can prevail.
You might think age would add a layer of objectively to some of these moments when I experience any number of these petty daily frictions. Maybe it does but remaining zen isn’t always so easy.
It’s all about stepping outside of the moment, lending distance to an otherwise emotional response; knowing that those others, who, hidden in the anonymity of their cars and other vehicles are really like me, no different.
How can we reach a position where we are less antagonistic, I wonder? More pacific. Give peace a chance, eh? It’s all about finding something – your something – that breaks you out of the middle of the frustration and enables you to see yourself as if from above, to see you and whoever else as if in a movie.
Down the years I’ve tried various expedients: deep breathing; imagining your antagonist in some absurd situation; listening rather than speaking.
Currently my mantra is stolen from a film. To be accurate it’s stolen from an interview on a film review show between Tom Hanks and Simon Mayo. In it, Mayo reports on a fellow reviewer’s mantra: ‘it’ll be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end’ and asked Hanks for his. In answering it he cites the character he is playing in his latest movie, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’ about an American icon pretty much unknown to British audiences: Mr (Fred) Rogers. His mantra was ‘Be Kind’.
And yes, that suits me. In those moments when a spark risks escaping and starting some sort of interpersonal conflagration, I say to myself ‘Be Kind’: kind to the person causing the friction; kind to myself; and kind to those who I will interact with later may benefit from me avoiding confrontation. And be kind unconditionally; it’s not about wanting or expecting the other person to reciprocate; you have to take that first step regardless of the reaction or consequences
I recommend you finding something, a little mind-worm that acts as an emotional bomb disposal. That’s mine for the foreseeable. If we all use something we might begin to ease away some frictions. Wouldn’t that be good? What do you do?
PS Hanks own little saw was ‘This too shall pass’.
This is written the fifth anniversary of #1000speak 1000 voices for compassion