This morning as I drove to work, I noticed a car driving closely behind me. It was so close in fact that I was concerned. I was worried the guy wouldn't be able to stop if I had to jam on my breaks. I watched in my rearview mirror how he changed lanes quickly and drove aggressively to maneuver around me. I'm not a big fan of that kind of behavior. On my bad days, I like to tap my brakes. I like to let tailgaters know I am not happy with the fact they are getting to close. It gives me a sense of power over them and my inability to get them off my tail. I also like to look in my rearview mirror, so they have no question about my intentions. If it's a really bad day, I may even gesture by throwing my hands up. Long ago, the gesture wasn't as kind. This behavior hasn't led to an accident…yet. It hasn't led to an altercation…yet. On my bad days, I welcome the challenge and clench my jaw and dare them to get upset, confident in my ability to 'help' them see the folly of their ways.
Now before you start justifying my brake tapping or maybe rail against my decision not to give the guy the finger, I want you to pause. Perhaps you think I should have done more and you are considering all the things you like to do. Like getting out to make sure he saw me. Or maybe walking up to his car to help him see me even more, maybe tapping on his window?
Maybe you are reading this and railing against my behavior. You may think that it's foolish and reckless to tap my breaks or gesture wildly. You may think it's crazy to get out of the vehicle. If you are, try to suspend judgment for a moment.
Looking at the situation objectively, from another car in traffic, I can see how I look. I appear angry like the world has done me wrong like I don't care about the people around me. One moment all is well as I listen to the radio, sing along and consider my day. The next moment, my face is flushed, my amygdala is hijacked, I could out-bite an alligator, and I look like a jerk.
I look like the guy in my rearview mirror.
Is this who I am? Am I really a jerk? Do I really care little for those around me? In the moment of interaction, it is true. Those things are true of my behavior. What about the rearview mirror guy? Is that who he really is? I know he is someone's son. He may be a dad, brother, husband, co-worker, and friend. There is so much more to who I am, and there is so much more to who he is.
The pictures we have of people are at a time and place. They don't tell about the entire journey.
If you are familiar with the journey of Frodo Baggins, this will make a lot of sense. What he looked like at the beginning of his journey is far different than what he looked like in Mordor. Just the pictures would invite us to fill in the blanks about who he is and what he is like. You will come up with VERY different stories based on what you see. However, they are the same character in different parts of his arduous journey. The tale he lived changed him significantly. If you aren't familiar with the story, I can't help you, and I pray for your soul.
We aren't all that different from Frodo. Our journeys change us. The picture someone has of us in the car, at the parent-teacher conference, the time we met at a party or even on stage isn't necessarily who we are at now.
I'm frequently in front of people. Whether it is on stage, in a small group, or teaching a workshop, what they see, and how they interpret me is something I can't control. But all they are getting is a glimpse, maybe an hour or so of my life. During this peak, I'm typically "on." I'm fueled by coffee. My clothes are on point, and my brain is engaged. They don't see me when my eyes are swollen shut, stumbling over doggy chew toys (thank God it isn't Legos any more), making my way to the bathroom at three a.m. Same guy, very different pictures.
You get my point. Unless we are with someone every day, all day, it is impossible to see the entire picture of who they are. Even then, you wouldn't get a complete picture because our motives aren't always revealed in our actions. Our work, school, or church relationships don't tell the whole story. There is more behind the scenes.
On a good day, I can believe the guy driving this morning had a great motive. Maybe he was racing to get his child to the hospital. On a good day, he had an emergency that I would happily assist him.
My experience of him doesn't tell the entire story, and until I have a chance to know him, it might be helpful for me to put on the brakes and not be so quick to react. There is a much bigger story unfolding, his and mine, and a knee jerk reaction is only a part.
Whose story have you encountered recently? What role did you play?