I had an epiphany yesterday.
I was traveling home, late in the afternoon, westbound on the interstate. In Idaho, they have raised the speed limit to 80 so I travel right at 84 MPH. I have passed a number of state troopers doing this speed and in fact yesterday, I passed a trooper and a deputy- both stationary and running radar. So basically, 4 MPH over the speed limit does not generate any interest.
However, in that 100 mile stretch home, I had five drivers cut me off. It was the craziest, most un-necessary and dangerous driving that I have seen in a long time. It was as though with nothing else to entertain them, drivers thought it might be fun to cut off other drivers. People were in the fast lane, on cell phones and eating hamburgers, refusing to yield. In one instance, I had a husky gal in a U-Haul not only cut me off after misjudging the speed of a merging tractor trailer rig- but she shamelessly flipped me off as she returned to the slow lane. Her inability to judge speed and distance I suppose, was my fault. A few miles later, a tractor trailer rig nearly took the front of my car off as he swerved in front of me because there was an abandoned vehicle on the shoulder and he was pretending to be some sort of safe driver. Avoiding abandoned vehicles on the shoulder is apparently worthy of cutting off occupied and moving vehicles.
People cannot be this stupid. I was in awe yesterday. My first thought was that everyone with an IQ around 90 decided to get on the interstate at the same time. Then I thought maybe it's me, maybe all of these people are entitled to drive like shit and I am simply un-accepting of that. Maybe I am the problem.
Maybe all of those years in a marked police car caused people to drive respectfully and altered my expectations and view of the driving world. Maybe being tossed into the civilian world of bad drivers is something I still haven't become accustomed to.
Then I remembered something my father used to always say. People and their driving habits are an extension of their attitude toward life in general. I was able to verify that premise via 25 years of policing. It was and still is- inescapably true.
The ultimate standard is this. Would any of these drivers have pulled their shitty driving in front of a marked patrol car? No, of course not. There are immediate and painful financial consequences for poor conduct which I think- is really the root of the problem.
So maybe people aren't stupid- maybe it's something else.
I drive a large, 13 ton, box truck a few times a week. It is slow. Not once have I ever cut another driver off. People in autos are continually passing on the left and right, doing anything to get away from that truck. Often, they will pull out quickly instead of yielding. I understand all of that. That truck is very slow and it is simply a giant, moving obstruction that unnecessarily slows people down.
Generally speaking on any random, given day, I don't think people are stupid. The drivers I work with are pretty intelligent folks. So what is it- what is causing this angry, entitled, and discourteous driving behavior? I think it's actually pretty simple. This insane behavior is the result of self absorbed, unconscious folks with a sociopathic lean toward others. Please allow me to explain.
When I was a child growing up, I had two parents and a whole block full of friends. People were involved in my life almost all of the time. Coaches, piano teachers, adults in an open gym. I was constantly interacting with others, making lots of mistakes- pissing people off- and once in awhile I'd do good things and make people happy. This giant trial and error period of growing up was almost entirely dependent on the observed reactions of all of the people who interacted with me. I was developing social skills. Figuring out what was acceptable and not acceptable behavior. In fact, team sports is where many of us developed our work habits and our attitudes toward others. When I struck out in the bottom of the ninth inning, right or wrong, I felt like I had lost the game for my team. So I had this heightened sense of social responsibility which caused me to treat other people decently or suffer the consequences. We felt shame when we failed. Life was not permissive of self absorbed behavior. You treated other people right or you suffered a tongue lashing or in some cases, an ass kicking. That was the ordered, social structure of my childhood in the 60's and 70's. It taught me to think about and consider the welfare of other people.
Remember Welcome Wagon? Neighbors who introduced themselves when you moved into the neighborhood? Neighbors who knew your phone number?
Generally speaking, the kids we churned out in the 80's and 90's are different. Often they were raised by only one adult. Children were left to entertain themselves. They were not forced to interact with the neighbor kids nor were adults always present in their lives. They had television with 600 channels, video games, computers, phones, too many prescriptions, and often enough- an exhausted parent who came home and checked out almost immediately. There are plenty of exceptions to this, not the least of which were the two parent households that made it through the development of their children and/or a number of people who received their socialization skills in the military or college.
So armed to the hilt with all types of distractions and gadgetry, children became self absorbed and isolated. They were not forced to interact with other people. They did not receive the input that making mistakes teaches us. They did not receive the advantages of immediately delivered consequences when they treated other people disrespectfully. They relied far less on the interaction of others. They grew up in an electronic world with a very limited number of like minded kids.
In other words, today's adults, folks in the 20-40 range- are the least socially skilled group of people that our culture may have ever produced. They were self reliant and isolated. In that petri dish- self absorbed behavior becomes acceptable behavior. They might sense that they are different somehow- but it's doubtful that they could pinpoint the cause. When you think about this- the extreme polarization of people in this country suddenly makes sense. The vitriolic and anonymous comment sections of articles and blogs suddenly makes sense. The rise of apathy, anger, and ultimately hatred- all begin to make sense. Narcissism and selfies make sense. If people are made to feel isolated- they will act differently. They have not developed social skills or coping skills. They take everything personally because they have not developed the social skills required for acceptance.
This is what I know for sure. If you insulate or isolate people from each other when they are young- you are going to have a lot of messed up and angry adults running around. The proof is in the house next door, the people at work, the rampant drug and alcohol abuse in this country as people try to cope with each other with their diminishing social skill sets.
In a "butterfly's wings" sort of way- the ripple effect of this lack of social imprinting probably isn't their fault but the effects are undeniable. They effect us all.
We don't know- what we don't know. Perhaps even more strange and unlikely, is the hope that people who don't know really know how to treat other people decently- will somehow and suddenly realize that they have been missing this piece and realize it is important. Call it spontaneous consciousness. It's not likely to happen and if it does- it will only be one individual at a time. In the meantime, there will be days like yesterday and they will grow in number. Be prepared.