When people cut each other off in traffic, or pull out in front of others, we are always looking the other way.
If it were a mistake or if they didn’t see you, they would try to correct, jerking the steering wheel or pleading for forgiveness in the rear view mirror. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to will the other person to understand how sorry I am.
I’m talking about looking right at you, then pulling out and staring for a very long time in the other direction.
This happened at a cross street yesterday. The driver saw me. He turned his head and proceeded to cross the street in front of me, with his head turned for a longer-than-normal length of time. Staring at something. Or nothing.
Of course I don’t begrudge the guy. It clearly is an instinctual piece. It goes along with conflict avoidance. But there is something deeper in this. Deeper than a little meaningless traffic encounter.
The man was afraid to encounter my humanity which made it easier to be selfish. He wanted to cross with a rolling stop and he did. I wasn’t required to stop, but I was forced to slow down. Just a little. Lay off the gas. Not a big deal. But the encounter left me sad. Less angry, less irritated. But sad.
Sad that he couldn’t confront what he was doing. Sad that he wouldn’t trust in the system. Sad that I couldn’t let it roll off my back without this sense of curiosity and judgment that crept into my mind.
Yet, this encounter encapsulated for me what it means to be selfish and antisocial: it’s root is fear. Fear, not so much of confrontation, since that was unlikely, but fear of recognizing my humanity and seeing me as someone undeserving of the treatment he was giving me.
This is a mostly silly example, of course. There are much more serious. My grandfather finally spoke to my Mom about his experience, more than fifty years after serving in World War II. His experience of needing to be one of the people systemically brainwashed to see the Japanese as non-human caused him great shame, sadness, and in the end, new fear.
Similarly, the concept of enlightened self-interest is a misnomer and a paradox. For it appears that self-interest determines, not only an internal focus, but a blinding of ourselves to the pain of others.
As one who has done this to others and will do so to others in the future, I am certainly not immune.
In The Baptismal Covenant, we promise
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
We promise to repent. We promise to get rid of the roadblocks and things that separate us; the things that wall us off from one another. We promise to not try and fix the mistake, but put ourselves in the right space.
The space that begins when we acknowledge one another’s very humanity.