I have been a dog walker for eleven years now, and over that time it seems that more and more cars are no longer stopping at the stop signs. Occasionally, people will slow down slightly before gassing through the intersection, or will quick pump their brakes, throwing a slight glance in the direction that they are turning, or come to a slow roll but never fully stop their momentum. I’d say about one in every hundred cars come to a complete stop and look both ways, and that is being very generous.
Now, the logic behind this is actually an ingrained belief that is built on the repetition of experience of nothing bad happening to them when they don’t stop. Over time these individuals have come to believe that they are not the people who would ever accidentally injure another; that this would not be in their life’s story. But clearly that is not a guaranteed truth. I would imagine that the people who have had significant accidents from not stopping, speeding, texting, drinking, probably held this same belief. “Not me.” “That would never happen to me.”
Earlier today I was out walking my beautiful friend, Tess. She’s a husky/border collie mix, and about as lovable as they come. We were standing at the intersection when a guy driving a full-sized semi-truck, from Art Van Furniture, came plowing through the intersection stop sign at around twenty five miles per hour to do a sharp turn; this was in a residential neighborhood. He never saw us. Thank God I know better than to cross until the car has come to a complete stop, or the driver flags us across, or we would have been dead. There is no way he could have stopped a full semi-truck that abruptly. I doubt he is thinking about that tonight.
People survived without texting at stop lights for several decades now. So, claiming that it’s safe because you are stopped doesn’t negate the distraction, or the gentle gassing forward as you hit send, not having ever really looked up and around. Lives are busier – yes, they are. Many have told themselves that they need to be on their phones, or sliding through signs, or speeding along, in order to keep up… but that’s simply not true. No email is as important as Tess. No text. No five minutes late to work. This rush, rush, rush, have-to attitude, is also just another belief, that we have convinced ourselves of, that is ultimately hazardous to our lives.
So, where does this belief come from? I believe these types of beliefs are shaped over time. As we run the intersection and nothing happens, we then tell ourselves that we are indeed looking both ways and that we, personally, don’t need to fully stop to actually see everything. Or, that we are aware of our car in motion, and the flow of traffic, and we’re seriously quick with our texting fingers, so we will be fine. We’ve done it a thousand times and look, nothing has happened. The more repetition of an action, the more it is reinforced, and the beliefs tied to it. No consequences equals no need to change. Tickets seem to reset peoples’ mindsets for a day or two, and then they often fall back into the same patterns.
In order to break these dangerous patterns we first have to be honest with ourselves that we are doing them, and ask ourselves why. It’s the why that is important; in breaking down the why of our behavior we can begin to see the faulty rational that has been serving as its foundation. “I have to check my phone when it bings because it could be important.” Now, ask yourself, when was the last time that someone sent you something life-threateningly urgent via text or email? This is really crucial to understand because what you are also then saying is that you are willing to take a gamble on killing another being just to find out.
Next time you’re driving, physically say out loud what you see on each corner of the intersection before you move forward. This may sound tedious, but it’ll likely reveal to you what you convinced yourself you were seeing versus what was actually there. It’s a commitment to this type of awareness that helps us to recognize the recurring patterns, and faulty beliefs, that leave us and others at risk. I never thought I would be someone who is visually impaired, but I am. Anything can happen to anyone, so be honest with yourself and insist on these conscious choices.