The other day I was driving home, and I experienced someone with road rage—me. A car cut me off in what could only be described as an audition for a job as stunt driver in the next Jerry Bruckheimer movie. As this car cut in front of me, I slammed on the brakes, honked my horn and braced for that bone-jarring crunch that accompanies a car wreck. Fortunately, the car swerved back out of the way, and we missed each other by nanometers. As I pulled up next to them to give them that, “What in the world were you thinking” look, I saw that they had their hand in front of their face, and they were laughing.
This is the part were the road rage comes in.
I could not believe that they were laughing at what could have been a very serious accident. They didn’t even mouth the traditional “I am sorry” to me. In my judgment, they were completely out of line.
I would have continued in my anger if I hadn’t remembered to stop and take perspective on the situation.
I recently have been reading Authentic Communication by Tim Muehlhoff and Todd Lewis.* It is a very well crafted book on how to best engage in the task of human communication. Chapter two is titled, “Perspective Taking,” and in that chapter, they state that good communication necessitates understanding the viewpoint and actions of another.
I judged the actions of this driver to be absurd, given the seriousness of the near collision they almost caused in light of my own set of cultural expectations—in my culture no one laughs when something is serious. As it turns out, most likely the driver of the other car responded in light of their cultural norms, in which people often giggle or laugh when they experience embarrassment or shame. My anger at what I deemed to be improper actions was wrong, but I was not initially equipped to properly interpret their actions.
In Authentic Communication the authors state,
…our perception of the world has been influenced by many factors, and the narratives we create to explain the world and our experience are unique and vastly different than narratives created by those around us.
Left to ourselves we so often make judgments that lack a sophisticated understanding of another person, but, conversely, we expect others to work at properly understanding us.
Muehlhoff and Lewis state that, “Perception checking is inherently a collaborative process…” We need each other’s help if we are going to understand one another. They aptly quote Proverbs 20:5 which states, the “purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” There are no shortcuts to understanding others; nor is this just a cognitive exercise, but one that needs to engage both our rational and emotional faculties.
It is so easy to make a quick judgment. When I almost got into the accident I thought, “What in the world does that ignorant driver think they are doing? They obviously are too stupid to do anything but laugh.” But, it was my ignorant attitude that initially kept me from seeing the truth of the situation.
What if you have a friend who has an eating problem, and you think to yourself, “Why don’t they just get some willpower and go on a diet, go to the gym, and buy healthy foods?” What about a friend who is struggling with pornography? Why don’t they just turn off the cable, block their computer and be more self-controlled? When we unthoughtfully judge and don’t practice perspective taking with our friends, we do not “draw them out” as said in Proverbs, but we limit our ability to have fully orbed views of our friends.
Muehlhoff and Lewis quote Maria Logones who calls perspective taking “world-traveling,” that is we attempt to see things as our friend does through their eyes. When we see the world as others see it we “share in their burdens” (Galatians 6:2) or to quote Tim Muehlhoff’s favorite poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Let us see the anguish and fallenness in each other as an opportunity to practice perspective taking in the manner of Jesus our high priest who, as Muehlhoff and Lewis state, “traveled in our world and observed it through our own eyes.”
* (Disclaimer: I am a colleague of both writers at Biola, and I have published a book in the same series.)