I've heard it said the way you act on the road reveals your true self. If so, I am in the running for most impatient, sailor-tongued woman out there.
Angry words tumble through my mind, directed toward slow drivers, reckless drivers, idiot drivers. I mutter epithets and if I start to yell, then heaven help you.
I thought this only applied to road rage. Apparently not.
A month or so ago, my car headed back toward Nashville after a lovely weekend away. It rained off and on and when the rain poured, there was little to do but focus on the road before me. The Midwesterner in me is compelled to drive on through rain, snow, and sleet so I continued on my merry way, as did most of the surrounding cars.
I have a compulsion to read bumper stickers and figure out what vanity plates stand for. During one of the rain intermissions, I passed an SUV with out of state plates and glanced at the bumper sticker as I drove by.
I glanced, I processed, I wished I'd never read the offensive words. And believe me. No matter which side of the political aisle you tend toward, you'd be offended, too.
My immediate response? Somewhere along the colorful lines of "jackhole."
I denounced the driver. I was aghast at proof that Americans believed such hateful things, to the point of plastering them on their vehicles. I seethed at his ignorance.
Right in the middle of my stream of consciousness tirade, a thought struck me.
What if the driver was Grandpa? Or a cousin? Or an old friend?
Would I react the same way? No, I wouldn't. I'd take a deep breath. I'd ask why and I'd gently educate and then, hopefully, I'd help them peel the sticker off.
Wasn't my hostile dismissal on par with the bumper sticker's vitriol?
My indignation settled heavy in my stomach until it dissipated.
The SUV was miles behind me. There was no room for conversation, nor would the driver ever know my thoughts.
I strive to be gracious when I disagree and offer only thoughtful commentary instead of adding to the noise out there. But my true self revealed itself on the highway that day. I have so much more to learn.
We're weary this election season, more so than I remember previously. We're tired of vitriol and mud-slinging, of us vs. them. It's not just politics, it's religion and the so-called mommy wars and...
We're tired of a two party system and denominational crossroads, of misaligned allegiances and strained relationships. We forget what constructive criticism looks like. We forget a difference of opinion does not mean an attack on our beliefs and choices.
I've learned to pause before reacting and extend grace when in doubt. Sometimes we need to speak up but often we need to let it be. I no longer read articles about certain church figures. FactCheck.org is one of my favorite sites.
I am careful about what articles I pass on. I steer clear of anything smacking of smugness and condescension. I learned some of this the hard way. I've never claimed to be perfect.
I monitor discussions on my Facebook wall to make sure they don't devolve into senseless charges. And often, good discussions emerge and it makes me proud of the people in my life. On the other hand, I hide friends and unfollow people who demean politicians and look down on those voting opposite them.
How often do we take our opinions off of social media and on to the dinner table or at the coffee shop? It's a whole other ballgame talking to loved ones face to face. I'm tired of tiptoeing around certain subjects around certain people. I want to believe we're better than that but I bear scars showing otherwise.
I know this, however: when we break bread with someone, we are less likely to want to break them.
I enjoy a good discussion. In fact, I believe it's crucial to hear from those with different opinions because it helps inform my own. Sometimes we agree to disagree and sometimes we realize we have more in common than we originally thought. It is possible to have a healthy debate without allowing it to become personal.
We as a country have forgotten that truth.
It feels good to denounce someone. I'm right; you're wrong, you poor fool, we think. There's the jolt of satisfaction of putting them in their place. Except we change nothing.
It's not us vs. them. It's me against my best friend or my neighbor and when I put it in that context, it's not me against anyone at all. We're in this together.
No one will change my opinion with vitriol or personal attacks. But if they're willing to listen and ask thoughtful questions, I'm willing to do the same.
It starts on the road and in my heart.
It starts with me.