Thursday, January 14, 2010

The fast and the furious

I gave up making big New Year's resolutions years ago.  You know, the traditional "lose 20 pounds, learn to say no, procrastinate less, be a faultless human being" kinds of goals.

Instead, if I make any resolutions at all (which I usually don't), they're very small.  It started several years back when I jokingly resolved that in the coming year, I would throw out any pen that didn't work.  Inevitably, shortly into January of that year I pulled a pen out of a drawer and found it inkless.  Remembering my resolution, I threw it away without guilt.  (That last part is important:  previously, I would've felt bad about throwing it out:  maybe it would work next time.  Wasn't I doing less harm to the environment by holding on to it, rather than delegating it to the landfill?)

I kept that resolution, and still throw out nonworking pens.  Consequently, I almost never grab one that doesn't work.  It's ridiculous, but that small choice genuinely reduced some of my daily frustration--and that's priceless.

So, I've been trying to think about what kind of micro-resolution I could make this year that might have a similar effect.  Nothing really came to mind until I was walking to campus a few days ago.  It was the first day of the semester, it was 8 a.m., it was snowing and gray and short, I was in a foul mood. 

As I approached the intersection (ironically) of Pleasant Street and High Street, the light turned green and I stepped into the crosswalk only to nearly be run down by a college-aged driver who glared at me as she turned in front of me. 

This did not improve my mood.

I used to think that Greeley was the worst town for pedestrians that I'd ever lived in, but Morgantown quickly overtook the top spot.  My walk to school takes me straight up the main drag through downtown to campus, and every day it's kind of a dodgem car situation, especially at certain intersections--around the post office, in particular, but there are lots of other places where, if a pedestrian and a car are approaching at the same time, the car will cut off the pedestrian every time.

Problem is, I take this all personally.  When, of course, it's got nothing to do with me.  And if I'm honest, when I'm the driver, I get impatient with pedestrians, too.

I'm reminded of a great installment of the comic strip Potshots that ran in the Ohio State student newspaper, The Lantern, when I was an undergrad.  It was a two-panel gag.  The first panel bore the title "OSU student as pedestrian," and showed a student crossing the street, shaking his fist at a passing car and yelling, "Watch where you're going, buddy--can't you see people are trying to walk here?!"  The second had the header "Same OSU student, 15 minutes later," and showed the same guy behind the wheel of a car, shaking his first at a pedestrian and yelling "Get out of the street, you moron!"

Bottom line:  we're all a bunch of selfish, impatient @$$holes.

At any rate, I grumbled about the Pleasant Street incident all the way to campus, where--at the final intersection before my building--a very kind driver stopped and waved me across the street in front of him.  Sometimes I'll wave or mouth "thanks" when people do that, but a lot of times, I don't because I figure it's THE LAW, not a courtesy that merits recognition.  But then I thought, when most people are discourteous, shouldn't I acknowledge those who aren't?

So, that's my micro-resolution for 2010:  to try on my daily walk to work to ignore the crappy drivers as much as possible, and to notice and thank the thoughtful ones.  Somehow, I know that if I can do that consistently, it's likely to reduce my daily frustration level even more than tossing dead pens.


Catherine Zoerb said...

I love the idea of micro-resolutions. I'll have to try that!

Hopefully your new one will bring you joy this year! :)

Christy said...

This is a post after my own heart. First of all, I *love* the pen resolution. I plan to steal it, post haste.

Second, the experience being an intrepid pedestrian (one given to road rage when behind the wheel, which I consequently keep to a minimum) hit home. I'm with you. I tend to show small gestures of appreciation to kind-hearted, attentive drivers. I know they're just meeting the minimum expectations, but I figure a little recognition for that positively reinforces the gesture, and makes them more likely to repeat it. I guess it's less about true gratitude than trying to affect paradigm shifts. If decency is the means to that end, I'll take it.

Rosemary said...

Christy, I knew you'd relate! I'm sure it's even worse for cyclists. And you're absolutely right: it really is more about trying to affect a paradigm shift than genuine gratitude. It's probably foolish of us to think that such a small gesture could produce big change, but if the small gesture reduces my own hostility, then that's a big *enough* change for me.

Steal the pen resolution, both of you--you won't be sorry!