I’m reading another Terry Pratchett book, A Hat Full of Sky, and, as usual, it is hilarious and brilliant. At one point, a wise old witch tells a wise young witch that:
“Learning how not to do things is as hard as learning how to do them. Harder, maybe. There’d be a sight more frogs in this world if I didn’t know how not to turn people into them.”Granny Weatherwax to Tiffany Aching in A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
As a recovering addict (to what? oh, you name it) I can attest that this is true on many levels but in this post, I want to relate it to driving.*
Or, more specifically, not driving. As in not driving into an intersection if you can’t get all the way through it because the car ahead of you is still in the intersection or if there isn’t room for your car to clear the intersection when you move forward.
This requires paying attention to what you’re doing with a bit more awareness than normal driving does. You’re not just making sure you don’t run into the guy in front of you. You’re also paying attention to where you will end up being if you keep going even if the light is green and you seem to have the right of way.
Because if you get stuck in that intersection when the light turns red, you will be blocking traffic going perpendicular to you – blocking the box, in other words.
If you’re reading this blog, which you are (funny how I can tell that from miles away and sometime in the past), you are a thoughtful, intelligent person and you never block the box and cause city-wide gridlock. This I know (it is known). What I was thinking about was the best and appropriate response to a box blocker who is sitting in the intersection in front of you.
What should you do?
Clearly, they are participating in the downfall of civil society and need to be informed that their behavior is unacceptable. Therefore you should honk at them. A lot.
But, they have already made the mistake and certainly clear to them that they screwed up so honking at them (a lot) will do nothing but make them feel worse than they already do. They’ll get out of the way as soon as they can and honking will just create noise pollution.
On the third hand, maybe they have no idea that what they did was the wrong thing to do. There are a lot of ignorant people in the world who either never learned or forgot about the problem of box blocking. I learned to drive in New Hampshire and I’m fairly sure it wasn’t mentioned in my driver’s ed class. It just didn’t happen in the early 80s where I grew up. So someone had to tell me. So maybe the thing to do is to get out of your car and walk over and explain to the errant driver that in the future they need to pay more attention to the overall situation BEFORE they enter an intersection.
To make a clear connection to the quote that started this post, the box blocker needs to learn that sometimes it’s best not to drive forward.
It’s a tough one. Clearly none of the options available to the blocked driver are all that good. It’s tough to point out to someone that they screwed up after they screwed up.
Actually, it’s not tough to point out a screw up. What’s tough is to point it out in such a way that they will learn and not get defensive.
I explained the problem of the blocked driver to my son this morning as I drove him to school. Then I asked him if he understood the metaphor. He looked at me in surprise as it dawned on him that I was explaining the difficulty of pointing out planning mistakes to him after the fact in a constructive way. For instance, how could I point out that saying yes to extracurricular lighting design jobs in the middle of finals was counterproductive without him getting defensive and angry such that he didn’t see and learn from his mistake?
He’d already driven into the box, honking at him would just make him mad.
Being a clever (too clever by half, in fact) young man, he said that the best approach was to introduce the subject with a long, rambling explanation of something that seemed to have nothing to do with him and then bringing it back to his situation in a surprising way so that he could make the connection on his own.
And now, as I write this, I realize that that’s exactly how and why 12 step meeting shares, group therapy and biblical parables work.
Two things to take away from this today.
- Don’t go forward without consideration. You might end up blocking the box and/or filling your calendar with things that are not a priority.
- If you think someone needs to learn something, don’t tell them they are wrong first. That tends to make people defensive and (usually) impervious to learning. Tell them a story about someone else being wrong (use yourself whenever possible) in the same way first.
Feel free to share this with someone who needs to learn something but you don’t know how to tell them.
If you’re reading this and someone shared it with you, you should now take a deep breath and call them and humbly ask them what they think you should learn.
*Yeah, I was only pretending to relate it to driving. Hopefully that’s clear by the end.