Life on Earth

Today a good friend told me a story that really made me think.

She was driving home a few days ago, and was in the far left lane on the highway. She glanced in her rearview mirror and saw flashing lights approaching. She looked down at her speedometer – uncharacteristically, she was doing the speed limit. Breathing a sigh of relief, she checked her mirrors again, turned on her blinker, and changed lanes to let the patrol car pass.

However, as she changed lanes, she heard a honking behind her – she’d inadvertently cut someone off. The driver behind her flashed his high beams aggressively while continuing to lay on his horn. She was sure she could hear the driver swearing at her.

What’s more, the officer in the patrol car chose that moment to shut off his lights and siren, erasing any evidence that my friend was forced to change lanes. For all intents and purposes, at least from the perspective of the other driver, there was no reason for my friend to have cut him off. The other driver followed her all the way to her exit, tailgating her until she was actually on her exit ramp. The other driver then roared off down the highway, adding a few more honks to punctuate his ire.

So, who was at fault here? My friend who tried to get out of the way of an approaching emergency vehicle? The officer in the patrol car for running his lights and siren, and then not? The other driver who was minding his own business until my friend cut him off for no apparent reason?

The truth of the matter is that sometimes things just happen, and no one is to blame. We are always so quick to try to assign blame and assess guilt that we lose sight of the fact that not everything is someone’s fault, not every negative event is the result of someone who is out to get us. Shit happens.

I wonder how many times my totally innocent actions have resulted in annoying, irritating or angering someone – unintentionally, of course. Sure, I go out of my way to piss people off sometimes, that’s just who I am. But I only behave that way with people I like and/or care about (the two are not mutually exclusive) – rarely do I unleash my wrath on an innocent stranger, despite what you may have heard about the way I drive.

I spend so much time agonizing over the annoying irritants I encounter every day – people walking too slowly in front of me, someone taking the last piece of pizza, Starbucks running out of peppermint syrup (seriously, how does that happen?), idiots that don’t know how to merge or use their blinker…what habits do I have or actions have I taken that have the same effect on others? Does someone not like my laugh? Am I taking someone else’s parking space in the garage at work? Did I accidentally cut someone off in line? Does my hair offend someone?

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. It’s more than just a well-worn adage, it’s the God’s honest truth. You do the best you can, and hope for the best. Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you don’t. The difference is in how you handle it when you encounter someone who’s ire you’ve provoked.

My friend just kept driving until it was her time to exit. She was fortunate that the other drive didn’t come after her, or pull out a gun and shoot at her vehicle – this is Oklahoma, after all. She did the right thing – she kept her cool and waited it out until the situation passed. She recognized that, although she did nothing wrong, in the other driver’s eyes she had. She resisted the urge to retaliate (by brake-checking him, for example). She accepted her lumps (tailgating, high beams, annoying horn) and moved on.

What I’ve Learned

We should all be more like my friend – recognize when you make a mistake, accept your punishment, apologize when you can, and move on. That’s the way it goes, sometimes – welcome to life on Earth.

And While I’m Thinking Of It…

The title of this post, as well as a couple of paragraphs, was directly inspired by the awesome tune Life on Earth by Snow Patrol – you should definitely stop what you’re doing right now and check it out!

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