Posted by: Joe English | March 29, 2013

Mental Games — Maybe They Do Mean Us Harm

running-advice-bugIn a post a couple of weeks back I was considering whether drivers on the roads mean us runners and cyclists harm or whether we just cook that up in our minds through our own feelings. Do you remember the article? I asked if they “really mean us harm?” After considering this a bit more, perhaps they really do hate us after all. But so what.

In the earlier article I explained that our feelings and thoughts are related. When a driver cuts us off, we get angry. The anger comes from a thought that the driver “did that on purpose” or “was trying to scare me” — or something similar. If we really think about it, the feelings are totally different if we process this as “they didn’t see me” or “that was my fault”. Then we have other feelings, such as relief from not being hit. So I was proposing that we try to maintain our composure, making sure that our feelings stay positive and don’t impute negativity on other people that may not mean us any harm.

Before I go further, I had a very interesting experience that I wanted to share. I was sitting at a stop light on my bike waiting to make a right turn. The road that I was on was a one-way street and I was sitting in the far right lane. As I was looking up the street at the traffic coming from my left, I noticed that a car had it’s turn signal on — to take a right turn — the wrong way up the one-way street. The driver made her turn and in my head all I could think was “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.” She made it about half a block before figuring it out and thankfully no one crashed into her. It was the other drivers that I noticed next — I saw people yelling things like “fuck you” and “you crazy bitch” at this driver. All I felt was relief that she hadn’t caused a huge accident. The anger that was pouring out of these other drivers was exactly what we were considering. No one would knowingly drive the wrong way up a one-way street unless they were in a Bruce Willis action movie. If any of those other drivers had been analyzing the situation at all, they would have realized that, but they went straight to the anger response.

I was kind of happy that I felt calm and more concerned about the driver than anything else. So I set off to test this in a couple of situations. On one of my rides a few days later, I was steaming along at a nice clip in a VERY wide bike lane. I was way over at the right side of the road, a good ten feet from the traffic. It was a clear day, a flat road with only light traffic. The picture that I’m painting for you here is that there is no way that I could have been blocking or impeding the traffic in any way. So along comes this truck and lays on his horn as he goes by me. This, of course, startled me but I typically accept this type of behavior from drivers so I didn’t really react. It happened though that I caught up with the truck at a light about 1/4 mile up the road. So I made the universal sign for “roll down your window” and I asked the driver the following: “Did you need to get my attention or were you just letting me know that you were there?”

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