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Perspective of the Slow Driver Story
I was in my twenties and home visiting my parents. My dad’s back was in bad shape, something that had happened a couple other times when I was a kid. My mom made an appointment for him with a chiropractor. My dad was a farmer, a strong bear of a man with an amazing tolerance for pain. If he was going to the doctor it was pretty bad. As we lived in the country twenty minutes outside of town, I was to drive him.
We left our house and my dad sat next to me in the passenger seat. I drove over the railroad tracks at the intersection and I could see him wincing in pain as we went over the bumps.
It was a two-lane country road most of the way into town. Traffic was busy enough that there weren’t many opportunities to pass. I normally drove that road about 65 miles per hour and hated drivers who slowed things down.
I hadn’t gotten up to 60 when our car went over a small bump in the road. My dad, in a hushed, breathy voice of pain, asked me, “Please slow down.” I hadn’t realized he was that sensitive to the movement of the car. I paid closer attention to the road and kept an eye on how he was doing as I drove. We hit another bump in the road and he winced again. I slowed some more. With each bump or small pothole I slowed down even more. In a short time I was driving just over 40 miles per hour. Soon there were four cars and then six lined up close behind me.
I’d always hated driving behind slow drivers. Like any normal twenty-year-old, I had a penchant for speed. When I was behind a slow driver I swore about how stupid they were to drive so slowly. Trapped behind them, I felt they must have some personal agenda against me. Whether it was my impatience or their stupidity, either way I was quick to get frustrated by a driver going only the speed limit.
As I drove with my dad in the car, I felt I could hear the voices in the other drivers’ heads screaming like mine had so many times: “You stupid freaking idiot! What the hell is the matter with you? Speed up, you moron!” I could imagine them yelling at me in their heads, or possibly even out loud. I was now the stupid freaking idiot that normally I would have been yelling at.
I kept glancing at my dad. He occasionally moved a little, trying to find a less painful position but afraid he might aggravate his pain in the process. His slow movements, tightness of breath, and tension in his body conveyed his fear that another shooting pain would come. Even with the drivers behind me screaming for me to speed up, I wouldn’t do that to my dad. Pulling over to let them pass would only add more bumps getting on and off the road, and I wouldn’t do that to him either.
Stuck at the head of this slow-moving line of cars, I reflected on all those times I’d felt frustrated and angry at being trapped behind slow drivers. I had seen them as idiots, morons, and used other choice words to describe them. I realized now how ignorant I’d been. I didn’t know what was going on in their car at all. I’d assumed there was no valid reason for them to drive slow. I’d assumed I knew so much more than they did about how fast they should drive. I’d assumed I was so much smarter, with my sense for faster being better, and I’d assumed they were so stupid. The truth was that I didn’t know what was going on with any of those drivers in front of me. In reality I was the ignorant one, and I was doubly ignorant for thinking I knew better than them. Maybe they had a good reason for their slowness. Maybe they were driving slowly out of love and caring for someone.
Just as I hadn’t known what was really going on at those times, the drivers behind me right now didn’t know about my dad being in so much pain next to me. They were upset, frustrated, and maybe even angry, mostly because of what they were imagining in their own mind that didn’t have anything to do with reality. They didn’t know I was just trying to help my dad, or that if they were to find themselves in a similar situation they’d be driving slow too.
Since then, whenever I’m behind a slow driver, I never believe a complaining thought in my head. The thoughts might come up, but I know the false assumptions behind them and how they don’t apply to reality. I’m aware that I don’t know what’s going on in the car ahead of me. I simply decide that the driver is doing the best that he or she can.
Multiple Perspectives in a Story
When we think a thought, have opinions, or share our personal experiences, what we say usually takes the form of a story. A story is always told from a particular perspective. When you read or listen to a story, your imagination can adopt the perspective of the storyteller. But even within the story we can have multiple perspectives.
I told the above story in the first person, as myself, but let’s step outside the story and examine it in the third person, as “Gary’s experience.” If we dissect the story we can see several different perspectives within Gary’s experience. For starters, there are five different versions of Gary alone, and two others adopted via imagination about other people’s experience:
- Impatient Gary, who gets angry and frustrated at slow drivers.
- Idiot Gary, who feels he is the stupid slow driver this time.
- Kind Gary, who is helping his dad by driving him to the doctor.
- Reflective Gary, who is processing and having realizations.
- Aware Gary at the end, who is at peace with slow drivers.
- Dad in the passenger seat, in pain.
- Drivers behind Gary, feeling frustrated and angry.
Then there’s an eighth perspective, the observer that we are using to dissect the story’s characters. In a way, you are an observer to the story. As you read the story you move into the perspective of the different characters and imagine the experience from their points of view. You can imagine going through the experience and realizations of change that Gary is going through. You might jump into the dad’s perspective of being in pain, or the perspective of a driver behind a slow car.
As the reader or listener, you create your own version of the story in your mind. Words are conveyed to you and your mind translates them into a kind of dream. In your imagination, you build a virtual experience, complete with people, cars, scenery, conversations, and an internal dialog of thoughts and emotions. As the story goes along, you travel in and out of the perspectives of each of the characters and imagine experiencing what each of them feels emotionally, and even physically. When the storytelling is over you step out of the story and look at it as something you created in your imagination. When Gary goes back and reads his own story, he can adopt the perspective of the observer as well.
As a listener, you can also remain in just an observer perspective, sitting outside others’ experience, never engaging in the storyteller’s perspective. However, if the story is emotionally engaging or dramatic, it often draws you into various perspectives of the characters and you lose the neutrality of the observer perspective. Perhaps go back and read the story again. This time pay attention to how Gary shifts from one character to another. By reading with the intent to observe the character shifts you might notice that you have adopted more of an observer perspective the second time through.
A Skeptic Steps Out of the Story
Now we can take this approach one step further and create a ninth perspective, that of a skeptic. The skeptic originates from the observer perspective and then begins to scrutinize the assumptions and structure of the story. A skeptic might start by wondering whether this is a true story or one that was made up.
The skeptic might also notice that although Gary claimed a more enlightened perspective at the end of the story—admitting that he didn’t know what was going on in the car in front of him—he nevertheless assumed that he knew what was in the minds of the people behind him. He assumed the drivers behind him were having the same kinds of reactions as Impatient Gary. He didn’t imagine that any of them would have the maturity and awareness to move past a twenty-something type of impatience. He assumed he was the only person in that line of cars with this epiphany. This is another limited assumption about people he doesn’t know.
From a skeptic perspective we can see that this Aware Gary still has a limiting belief paradigm with a somewhat spiritually arrogant perspective. Gary has moved past one set of limiting beliefs and is calmer, but he is still limited by other assumptions that he is not aware of. After Gary has written the story he can go back and read it from a more neutral observer perspective. When Gary actively scrutinizes the particular assumptions of each character, he adopts the perspective of the skeptic. The skeptic can view the story and see the false assumption of the “Aware Gary.”
This story is an excerpt from my book, MindWorks, a practical guide to changing thoughts, beliefs, and emotional reactions.