Getting the Message Across

We were driving along the interstate in Kansas, returning from our annual visit with relatives in Colorado. My husband was driving. A semi truck came up beside us on the left. He started blaring his horn as he approached and kept it going the entire time he passed us.

I looked up as his cab came even with our windows. He was gesturing wildly behind us and saying a lot of words that, of course, we couldn’t hear.

“Honey,” I said. “I think he’s trying to tell us there’s something wrong with our car.”

We had been traveling along in the right lane with the cruise control set for at least an hour. I could think of no other reason why someone would be honking and attempting to communicate with us. He was obviously trying to be helpful.

“I don’t feel anything wrong with the car,” my husband responded. The semi was not succeeding in getting past us in a timely manner and cars were stacking up behind it.

“Here,” my husband said to the other driver, who had turned on his right turn signal even though he still had most of his trailer to go, “let me help you out.” He released the cruise control and we slowed down sharply, allowing the man to get over in front of us.

Once the other traffic cleared and the semi was still not up to speed, my husband changed to the left lane. Good, I thought. Another opportunity to figure out what the guy was trying to tell us. He was trying to help us with something.

As we pulled up beside him, I looked out the window and up into his cab. He began gesturing and talking again. I wondered how he expected me to catch the stream of words flying out of his mouth. I wondered why he wasn’t pointing at a tire or the back window or whatever. I put my hand up and shrugged, to let him know that I wasn’t catching what he was trying to tell us.

So then he made it clear.

He shot me the bird.

Oh, so not being helpful. My bad.

I’m sure most of my readers saw that coming. I guess I’m just a bit naive. After indignantly reporting to my husband what had just happened, I learned that the driver had apparently been trying to pass us for some time and had been unable to give it enough juice. He was irritated with us for not accommodating him by reducing our speed, I guess. Or maybe he thought we were deliberately adjusting our speed to keep him stuck. I don’t know.

As I mulled this over for the next several miles, frustrated that the driver would believe that I was being a bitch when I shrugged at him – communicating “I don’t care what your problem is – we’ll do what we want” instead of “I’m sorry, I can’t understand what you are trying to tell me”, something struck me.

I don’t drive aggressively. I’m inclined to try to help people out if I can. The gentle honk when the light turns green is just to let you know that it’s green. I’m not expressing anger that you haven’t moved yet. I’ll move over, slow down, let other drivers in, whatever. And so when a driver came up beside us, honking and yelling, I assumed he was trying to help us. Silly me. Assuming other drivers are me.

Then again, that’s exactly what he was doing too: assuming my husband and I were just like him. Surely no one actually expects people in the right lane to slow down so they can pass them. So since he was angry with us, he must have assumed my husband was messing with him. And then when I shrugged at him, he assumed I was being ugly – just like he was being as he drove past us.

Maybe this is why naive people are swindled so much and mean people are angry so much. We keep assuming the people we are interacting with are just like us and misinterpreting their actions as a result. How many problems have been caused by our inability to accurately interpret other people through our distorted lenses? Something to think about.

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8 thoughts on “Getting the Message Across

  1. I had a similar realization a few years ago… I had a great childhood. I was supported, nurtured, encouraged, disciplined, taken to church, and although my parents divorced, they were best friends, so even that was “okay”. I assume that everyone had a similar experience- because that’s what “childhood” means to me. I have friends who were abused or ignored or had drunk parents, and they assume everyone else had a similar experience to them. They are blown away when I talk about my childhood, as I am when they discuss theirs. Wild stuff.

  2. In my recent interactions with the preschool’s new owner, the single most startling thing he said was, “You’re not going to scare me.” I wasn’t interested in scaring him, just illuminating him on federal law. The fact he thought I was trying to scare him told me a lot about his modus operandi, and made me glad D’s days there number(ed) in the single digits.

  3. I remember a colleague of mine had the same experience. When the woman who had been trying to pass him got up beside him, she also gave the finger salute, only then to realize that it was her pastor driving the car in her way.

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