The Philosopher's Cornered
Issue 12

Back-Seat Driving
by Dan Wolaver

Sometimes when I'm a car passenger I find myself watching for a gap in the traffic so the driver can pull out into the road.  Here comes the gap, but the car doesn't move!  I'm tempted to correct him by telling him he's too cautious.  But what makes me think I'm a better driver that he is?  It's just that his sense of an adequate gap is different from mine.  My mind shouldn't have been in the driving mode in the first place; I should just sit back and enjoy the ride as a passenger.
    We're more tempted to speak up when it's clear that someone else has it wrong.  I saw a women in the supermarket yelling at her three-year-old and threatening to slap him if he didn't stop crying.  It was clear she was just making things worse.  Surely she would immediately change her ways if I just pointed this out to her. But I didn't say anything.  She probably knew she was handling the situation badly, but at that moment she couldn't help reacting in anger.  Maybe her family was in financial difficulty, or perhaps her husband was abusive. What seemed simple to me was not so simple to her. 
    When I was a kid I was embarrassed for my uncle at Christmas parties because he was always too loud and always told the same joke. ("I don't care what your name is, Fatso. Get those reindeer off my roof!")  My parents explained that he acted that way because he got drunk. From my standpoint the solution was simple—he should stop drinking so much. Of course he didn't need that advice; he already knew he drank too much. But, never having been addicted myself, how could I understand?  
     So pointing out people's faults to them is not the advice they need.  What they do need is compassion and understanding—understanding that I can probably gain only by "walking two moons in their moccasins." With the compassion and understanding will come the right words or actions to help.  So long as I  feel anger or impatience I'm not ready to help.  I need to reach a state of peace myself before I can help someone else get there.  If I'm honest with myself, it's mostly for my own sake I want someone to change; I'll enjoy them more if I can just make them perfect.  Mr. Rodger showed the right attitude when he said at the end of each show, "'You've made this day a special day by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are."
    So 99% of the time I just need to sit back and let them work it out themselves.  And leading my own life will probably keep me busy enough anyhow.
   And that's my philosophy.

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