What’s Driving Us?

Posted: 7 January 2017 in Cultural, Understanding Others
Tags: ,

deadly-drivingI had the opportunity before Christmas to go along to a motoring safety course. And was really surprised at the psychological perspective it took.  Nothing on stopping distances, hardly anything on driving distances. Little on the law.

Sure there was quite a bit reminding us of how much of The Highway Code that we thought we knew, has over the years been forgotten, never learned, or is new since we took the test.  The focus was on how we see ourselves.  Yes, three hours of motoring introspection.  Was it dull?  No. Read on

This journey into the interior began with looking at how we see ourselves. As humans, not drivers.  Polite, courteous, expert, imaginative, fun, loving, extrovert, quiet, etc.  Then we were asked to consider how others thought of us when we drive our cars.  Similar attributes were described.  Then we discussed the driving we had seen in others.  Well it all poured out: aggressive, dangerous, risky, impolite, discourteous, rude, inconsiderate, etc, etc.

Next stop. How did we rate ourselves from 1 to 10 as drivers?  Of the 24 of us there, there were two self rated as 5 or “average”, 3 more 6, or 7.  And the rest?  Clearly almost everyone called themselves “above” average.  Not possible.  We were (almost) all kidding themselves.  And that was the first blow.

The next stop.  Optimism Bias (Weinstein 1980).  Where we believe that we are each less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to other people.  Crime, cancer, car accidents.  “Not me buster”.  This is common regardless of gender, race, nationality and age.

And the next stop.  Sister of Optimism Bias is comparison normalcy.  “Everyone is speeding”, “everyone jumps lights”.  Destination –> Ccccccrash!

We think of ourselves this way

  • We are all interesting, polite, skilled people, at the wheel as well as at the dinner table.
  • Others are not the case. Rude dangerous, thoughtless, unskilled.
  • We are all better than average drivers, perhaps considerably so.
  • And if we speed, jump lights, tail-gate others, “Ah, but everyone else is doing so”.

As the Tutors unpacked case studies, the theme of overweened hubris, arrogance emerges.  Of not “doing unto others as one would have done to oneself”.  Of neuroses that “I’m late”, “I’m a have-to-do-it-all-mother”, “I’ll miss the kids unless I rush”.  “We’re all decent people until we get into that car”.  What – no bad temper, no arrogance, no adrenaline junkies, no laziness?  Sounds like a last minute cop-out here.

I raised the obvious point that that the tutor described is a picture not of dangerous drivers.  But of all humanity.  We are thoughtful/nice/decent.  But crucially, we are also dangerous/vain/cruel.  We think we know better than others.  They blinked at me.  Turned away and moved on.

I don’t blame them.  This was a motor safety course, not an Alpha Course.  The implications were just too big for that moment.  The roots to sound safe driving are ethical and spiritual.  A tamed ego.  A true assessment of one’s motives and abilities.  A good appreciation of the needs of others.

Time for an Altar Call?

Bill

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