Yours, mine, or theirs: citing “control issues” to justify bad behavior is just another excuse. It’s nonsense, too, because we don’t have control issues; we have irritation reflexes, entitlements, and a need for instant gratification. These form a perfect storm in our compulsion to influence the world around us – an Achilles’ heel like no other. And where do go with it?
Behind the wheel.
Oh, we all claim to know what little control we have over things, but we sure don’t act like it.
We don’t act like it when we gripe loudly enough that others know we saw the jerk who cut in line.
We don’t act like it when we play up our annoyance at someone as if collecting an accountability tax.
We don’t act like it with wait staff or store employees we think are moving too slowly.
We don’t act like it when we score-keep friends’ or loved ones’ missteps.
…when we make charity, acceptance, affection, or forgiveness conditional.
…when we make a 19th-century opera out of the relocation of our lunch in the office fridge.
…when we squirm with resentment as our efforts go unrecognized.
…when we wield guilt like a Lightsaber.
If there’s one thing in life that contradicts just about every good intention in which we can take pride, it’s how we behave at our perception of a loss of control. We finger point, we spy on people, and we lie when faced with powerlessness. I know, I know, that’s pretty grave stuff. We’re not a bunch of Hitlers running around, but don’t we tend to lose it when little things don’t go our way?
And don’t we gloss over our poor reactions and inability to surrender with petty excuses? You know, petty, like saying we “have” ADHD when we’re really just too lazy or undisciplined to pay attention, or bother trying. I say it’s the same with using “control issues” to justify self centered, or entitled behavior.
The unattractive coping mechanism that inspired this blog –middle fingers flying in traffic– is not something I’m above: let me get that right out. But I’m drawn to the unintended messages we send when we treat each other so badly on the road. We signal to others the shortage of influence we feel we have in our lives as we seek to leave an impression on the lives of fellow motorists. In Southern California, and I’m sure elsewhere, the language of speeding up or slowing down to prevent another driver from merging toward an exit lane is common. Think about it for second. Take a mental inventory of the things you pay attention to before changing lanes. I bet it includes stuff like what you think the driver to your left might pull because of the car he or she is driving, as well as whether or not the other drivers around you remember your lack of consideration three blocks back.
Being rude, on the road, playing dumb, and acting passive aggressive is such a pervasive phenomenon in Los Angeles that I sometimes catch myself casually faking out other control enthusiasts around me by using exactly opposite turn-signal indicators. Actually, scratch that. “Catch myself ” is a little soft. This is something I practice frequently, and it works. When they flinch as if to counter, I’ve avoided a thwarter. I can even convince myself I’ve just taken a higher road for having chosen not to hang back and match their response.
Over the years, I’ve seen an increase in these flagrantly obstructionist and defensive tactics. It’s as if more and more of us are crying out from the pain of living with some kind of short-person’s syndrome. For just 5 seconds we want to matter, and we want to matter to you. We need to make you recognize our say in things, and our steering wheel can help us do that. We’re gonna influence the way someone’s day is playing out, by God, even in a short little burst. We have the power to make you speed up, slow down, swerve, hit the brakes, or wave your middle finger and surrender your dignity. Ha! We won! We inserted ourselves into your interests, your schedule, and your course of travel. We live in fear of not mattering elsewhere in our lives. But we sure mattered on that one stretch before the interchange didn’t we?
Things get really out of hand when motorists engage in that form of reckless brinksmanship where the “winner” is the one who best conveys how little he or she has to lose. How asinine is that in light of the money Angelenos spend on their expensive (leased) Range Rovers, Audis, and BMWs? Not to mention auto insurance. And now you want to tempt bodily injury, or wind up with a manslaughter charge? Good plan.
Despite all we could lose, we play as if this is some version of “bling,” this ability to flaunt willful neglect at each other. The rage was first kicked off, of course, by our sense that another person has more control over their lives than we do, or a general need to compensate for our own lack of daily self-determination. The point is, we drive like an assholes on a bath salt high ’cause we can’t allow someone to get over on us when the light turns green. Cut us off? We’ll cut you off!
How many of us have dismissed or rationalized these (and other) dumb-ass moves with, ” I have control issues.”
In the end, where our excuses will go to die is at the scene of an accident we’ve caused, where cops are cuffing us or where we can watch paramedics give CPR to the guy in the Ford truck upon whom we’ve exacted revenge on behalf of the rest of “us” (those who drive more responsibly than he). You’re welcome.
Crazy, isn’t it? Yeah, and, as we all know – increasingly criminal.
Today’s blog is dedicated to the conversation I overheard in a restaurant last weekend. Two diners were sitting a booth over; I eavesdropped as one confessed they’d essentially intimidated another driver to the point of forcing a near collision. But that other driver had wrangled their way back up through the gridlock to pull alongside this person and throw a heavy metallic object, which shattered the confessor’s windshield and provided a genuine wakeup call. Why did they allow themselves to be caught up in such an absurdly counterproductive game in the first place? You guessed it: “I dunno. I obviously have control issues.”
[The icing on this cupcake of hypocrisy is: “And it happened in a school zone! Can you believe it!?” Ha! More like YOU happened in the school zone.]
It wasn’t even the wholly transparent control issue excuse that got me thinking, either. It was how accepting of it the dinner companion had been in response.
Is the idiotic behavior inspired by a lack of control so relatable it only rates a shrug?
Then God help us, for we really don’t know the nonsense we do.
Tags: Achilles' heel, ADHD, Audi, bath salt, bling, BMW, control issues, CPR, entitlement, Ford, Hitler, instant gratification, insurance, lightsaber, Los Angeles, Range Rover, Southern California, traffic, Volvo