As I sat in traffic today, I pondered the bumper sticker in front of me advising: Be patient, student driver. With an inexperienced driver behind the wheel, the car-related wisdom seemed worth following. We would probably all agree that new drivers—unaccustomed to traffic, laws, crazy other drivers, left turns, etc.—should all get an extra dose of our tolerance, and support, even. So, go ahead new driver, after you…
But then I wondered, “Why just new drivers?” Why does our compassion depend mostly on a certain (pre-approved) situation? Surely we all live under the condition of “work in progress.” Shouldn’t that be enough to merit compassion? And yet, we withhold. OK, I won’t speak for you: I have been known to withhold. But really (staying with driving analogies here), if someone cut you off in traffic, practically sending you into an oncoming cement truck, you’d probably be furious, right? You’d pile up all the reasons why you were the “good guy,” and the other driver was a jerk (or worse). You may even find yourself bolstering your position, explaining to coworkers and family members over dinner, how some idiot almost made you crash…
Then, later that night while watching the news, you discover the guy who nearly ran you out of your proper lane, must have been that young father of one-month-old triplets and Volunteer of the Year who suffered a massive heart attack, tragically dying in the five-o’clock traffic! He wasn’t a lousy driver, he was someone in deep pain. You just didn’t know his “story.”
Now things look completely different. But why? Because now there’s a “reason” for compassion? Because now it “makes sense?”
The truth is, we never have all the information, and unless we’re enlightened beings (in which case, why bother with a car when we could just beam ourselves from here to there?), we all bumble the very best way we know how, under the condition of being human. Sometimes that means mistake-making, and too infrequently that means not giving each other “get out of jail free” cards. Unless, of course, some news story, bumper sticker, or other inadvertent compassion-prompt comes along to reorient our thinking.
It was a long light, so my thoughts had time to head a different direction. What if those four words, Be patient, student driver, were more like instructions for self-reflective inspiration? As in: “Be patient (with yourself), student driver (there’s a lot to learn, but that’s what we’re here for).” I know, self-reflection isn’t nearly as popular as selfie-distribution these days, but what if we were actually patient with our sweet selves as we navigated down the road of Life? I’m pretty sure we would all feel less stress, and by extension, probably have a lot more patience for our fellow “student drivers.”
And what if giving ourselves a little extra patience/kindness/Love meant we had more patience/kindness/Love for everyone else? I guess, then, we’d need to change the comma placement to reveal a whole new way of thinking: