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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What’s the Capital of…?

As the boys played in the play area at Chick-Fil-A the other night, Jane sat with her parents and quizzed us on geography.

“What’s the capital of South Africa?” she asked.

“Johannesburg,” I answered.

“How do you know that?!?”

“It’s common knowledge,” her dad said.

“No it’s not! Fine, what’s the capital of Mexico?”

“Mexico City.”

“Guatamala?”

“Guatamala City.”

“Panama?” she started to laugh.

“Panama City. What’s the capital of Nevada?” I asked, turning the tables.

“What? I don’t know. Um. Nevada City?”

“No.”

“Um… how about… California City?”

“No, but that’s closer. It starts with Ca and ends in ity.” Eventually we got her to name it by giving the last name of a classmate named Carson. We moved on to other states. Her knowledge of state capitals was fairly weak.

“The capital of Florida…” she tried to answer, “…is… it’s like… Naomi. Right?”

“Are you trying to say Miami?”

“Yes! That’s it!”

“No, that’s not the capital of Florida.”

“But it’s pretty close to Miami, isn’t it?”

“No, actually the capital of Florida is about as far away from Miami as you can get and still be in Florida. It’s Tallahassee. How ’bout Kansas?”

“It’s not Kansas City, right? I mean, Kansas City is in Oklahoma.”

“What?!”

“I mean. It’s in Texas? No, wait… it’s somewhere… Missouri!”

“Actually it’s in both Missouri and Kansas, but what’s the capital of Kansas?”

“I don’t know.”

“Wichita*. How about Texas?”

“Houston.”

There was a moment of stunned silence before, “No, wait! I meant Austin! I meant Austin!”

“Wow,” her dad said. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

“I’m not even a Texan and I know the capital,” I added.

“It used to be the capital! It’s because of time travel! I travel with The Doctor, you see. I just forgot when I was. I’m confused. No, I’m…”

“Befuddled?” suggested her dad.

“Yes. Wait. No!”

I truly wish I had a recording of the conversation because I’ve forgotten many of the details. We traveled all over the world, naming capitals and rattling off facts, teasing each other and laughing the whole time. We all got to show off our knowledge and struggle through our weaknesses, like when I took several minutes to call to mind that Ottawa was the capital of Canada, while Jane grinned like the Cheshire Cat. She had classmates playing in the play area, but she chose to spend her time with us, exercising her brain. I truly cherish moments like this.

*Edit: To my great amusement, a friend on the East Coast, far, far away from Kansas, pointed out to me that Topeka is the capital of Kansas, the state that borders my husband’s and my home state. We also misstated the capital of India, but that one didn’t make it into the story. Proof that even the parents don’t always get it right.