Traffic, Context and Human Emotion
It's Monday morning and you're stuck in traffic.
"Don't be late on Monday, this is going to be a hugely important week for the company and I need everyone here and ready to go. We'll have a kick off first thing and I expect everyone to be there."
That's what your boss had said in an email that came through on Friday afternoon.
"Shit," you think to yourself. "Of course traffic would have to be terrible today."
The sun has yet to make and appearance and you are facing a sea of red lights that blink in and out of existence chaotically.
Your own brake lights flicker in a similar fashion as you inch forward, each tiny step adding to your stress.
In your head you picture the various different milestones of the commute.
"If I make it to that point by 8:15 I should be ok," and "If I don't get to that junction by 8:30 I'm fucked."
Time is running out.
You're long past angry. At this stage your mind is a tangled mess of aggression that is focused entirely on cursing who ever caused this traffic jam.
Was it some idiot that let his car run out of petrol and is now busy blocking an entire lane?
Or maybe some asshole rear ended the person in front of him while talking on his phone.
It may have been a faulty set of traffic lights. Perhaps they failed at a critical junction and those muppets in the city council had yet to send someone out to fix it.
Everyone in front of you is actively working against you. The fates have decreed that you will be late today.
A gap opens up in the other lane and you slip in because that lane's moving faster, but as soon as you do it grinds to a halt and your old lane starts moving again.
"God fucking damn it!"
Your mind begins to spill out through your mouth as you start cursing people out loud. Your fingers squeeze the steering wheel a little bit tighter. The crawl continues...
It's a bad start to the day, but somehow you manage make it to work on time.
The meeting was a typically yawn inducing Monday morning affair what went on just long enough for it to be tedious.
Afterwards you find yourself engaged in conversation with a small group of your colleagues. The cold weather and morning traffic is the subject of conversation.
You're quick to mention just how bad your commute was to the surrounding group of nodding heads. It seems like it was terrible for just about everyone for some reason…
Then the reason for the city wide traffic chaos is revealed.
"I saw the accident that caused it," the latest addition to the group says. "It looked really bad, I heard a young woman died. Hardly surprising when you saw the state of her car afterwards."
The rest of the conversation doesn't really register as you plunge into your own thoughts. Lingering feelings of aggression from the morning commute begin to melt away. A pang of guilt emerges.
However bad your Monday morning was, it had been infinitely worse for someone else, and their family and friends.
You had sat in traffic bubbling over with vitriol at whatever the cause may have been. But not this. That poor young woman had laid there dead while you suffered through your relatively minor inconvenience.
What does it all mean?
That got pretty dark there at the end... but this is something I think about all the time.
I hate being late.
Traffic, or indeed anything, that gets in the way of my being on time for anything causes me a huge amount of stress and anxiety. Not to mention anger.
But every now and again I'm snapped out of it. Brought back down to earth at the realization that whatever the situation, it's not life or death.
Context is everything. How we feel at any given point in time can swing wildly between extremes at any moment and we would do well to understand the context surrounding the situation before reacting, or overreacting, to it.
In the age of click bait and 140-charadcter communications it is more important to take the time to understand the context of a statement or situation. Consider the nuance. Maybe put your own emotions in check.
Emotions are unpredictable and easily influenced. Taking the time to understand and more rationally consider a situation can be a very healthy and worthwhile exercise.
An exercise I routinely fail to employ.