Thursday, July 21, 2005

A friendly wave

I think that the main problem with the world is that it is hard to recognize the humanity in people that are far away from you. This distance can be geographical, cultural or simply emotional. If we do not interact with people on a personal basis, they just seem like "ugly sacs of mostly water," to quote Star Trek. Until we engage the part of them that is human, we have a hard time really believing that they ARE people, just like us. When we don't remember that strangers are human, we don't give them the benefit of the doubt and are more likely to treat them UNLIKE we want to be treated.

Being on this island community, the humanity of others is forced on you. You interact with people on so many levels and see the same faces in the background repeatedly. There humanity creeps up on your consciousness to the point that even hard-forged habits cannot deny their humanity and right to the benefit of the doubt.

Today, I was driving to work and had turned on my left turn signal while slowing down to make my turn. It was an intersection at which the perpendicular road (the one I was turning onto) dead ended into the road I was on, forming a T. I did not have a stop sign, while the perpendicular road did. There was a guy in a truck pulling up to the intersection from my left. I had that terrifying realization that he was not going to stop and the intersection and was turning left into my path after I had committed to turning left into his. He had done what we all do: he had rolled a stop sign that he stops at every day going home. There's rarely traffic on that road and he had gone on autopilot, giving the situation only a cursory glance before doing what he always does on a familiar route. We both slammed on our brakes and at that moment, we looked at each other through the windshields of our cars. In that split second, I saw that he was an islander, he saw that I was local and any tension about "that asshole" disappeared. I don't think I even honked. I recognized that I have rolled stop signs into people's paths when I wasn't thinking and know that since I performed that act without malice, probably he had acted without malice as well. I forgave him and, in fact at him in commiseration. he smiled back and gave me a friendly wave. Because I've seen his face around, at the post office while waiting in line, in a group of guys at a party that I didn't know, he did not seem distant and I could recognize his humanity, which allowed to forgive him. Both of our blood pressures stayed low and our days weren't ruined thinking about how inconsiderate someone else was and overexaggerating the near-death aspect of the encounter in order to justify my own bad behavior that was a split-second reaction. Pretty cool.

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