Terrorizing Pedestrians

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Imagine you drive a lot. You have a long commute every work day, plus your life responsibilities require you to do even more driving during your “free hours.” For some of you, this won’t stretch your imagination.

You used to have a 45-minute commute, but you discovered that if you take surface streets instead of the expressway, ironically it goes much faster. Now you get there each day in about 28 minutes. That’s a windfall in sleep–and breakfast at home instead of in the car!

The only truly stressful part of all your driving is the pedestrians. They are ridiculous. Some days there aren’t any, and that is such an absolute relief! You arrive at work happier and more relaxed. But some days they’re out there in droves, seemingly in wait for when you appear up the street, strolling across without a care in the world. It’s crazy! Why are they so reckless?

Seriously, if it were just one you’d think someone had a death wish, but it’s so many! A very few will stay put on the sidewalk until you’ve completely cleared the block. Even some of those seem hostile. One guy–and you’re almost sure it’s the same guy, though you pass too quickly to be certain–flips you off every. single. time. he sees you. What the heck?

When you were growing up in a small town, people were smarter. Maybe they just had more common sense or a better upbringing. Your dad taught you very clearly, “Never try to cross the road until there are no cars present.” Is that so complicated? Don’t parents teach that any more? If not, what are they teaching?

A few times it’s been so frustrating, you’ve even considered going back to the expressway route. But then your co-worker who lives just two neighborhoods away complains, “It was frickin’ bumper to bumper today! One hour two minutes from my driveway to the parking lotI An hour of my life I can’t get back and a new personal worst!” So you don’t switch back. You just make a point of driving faster through those neighborhoods to get it over with. Some days you can even shave it to 25 minutes if you push it with California stops.

Then, one Saturday, your daughter, who just got her license last year, asks if she can go with you on a run to the grocery store. Of course you’re happy to have a little time with your teenager, who doesn’t always want to spend time with you now that she has a life and you are O-L-D.

“Do you want to drive, Hon?” you ask. Of course you’re a better driver, and you both know you are, but this is how you build their confidence.

“No, that’s okay. I get plenty of practice now. Thanks, though!” She jumps in the passenger seat and off you go.

You’ve gone only six blocks–it’s not far to your favorite grocery store, under two miles–when sure enough, a pedestrian decides to stroll in front of your car. Your daughter is sitting next to you, so you’re not going to lose your temper–even though you have every right to, especially considering your accumulated frustration.

Instead, you just honk, loud and steady, and slow down exactly enough so they can get across by hurrying just a bit. The pedestrian, a young man, glares at you and starts to say something. But you accelerate so your daughter won’t have to hear that language. Is one day of sanity asking too much?

You glance over to make sure she’s not stressed by what happened. She’s staring at you, mouth agape.

“Dad! What the hell?

You’ve rarely heard your daughter curse. She’s never cursed at you before. You’re not as close as you once were–or hope to be again–but teenage years, teenage rebellion. You remember being awful. Still, though–

“I’d appreciate if you didn’t use that language with me–“

“What! You could have killed that guy! What were you thinking? Why didn’t you stop!”

“Honey? You saw it. He was in the road. I slowed down for him. But you have to let him know he shouldn’t do that.”

DAD! He should do that. You have to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk! It’s the law!

You take a deep breath. Then another. Remember, you love this child. You love this child. Teenagers live to take moral stands, even when they’re dead wrong. They’ll die on any hill. You did.

“No, Hon. That’s dangerous and stupid. Not you, you’re not stupid. But crossing the street in front of a car is always stupid. I was taught that. I taught you that.”

“Daddy, I just took driver’s ed and passed my driving test. Recently. I’ll show it to you. When a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, you have to stop. No exceptions.”

She’s so sure she’s right. This is going to make her feel really foolish. You’re still a little irked, especially since you have to deal with this every day and she probably almost never does. But the more important thing is to make sure she’s driving correctly and safely. Better just to let it drop now. She won’t listen until she’s calmed down. You can explain it thoroughly to her when you get home.

*****

I did grow up in a small town and we waited for cars to pass because there weren’t many. To cross a “busy” street, we might have waited for one or two. In my memory, everyone crossed the street wherever they felt like it, including the two blocks of “downtown,” and I don’t remember thinking even once, “that car should stop for me.” The only exception was that we had crossing guards for elementary school. While I was growing up, we didn’t have a single stop light in town, so there was also no signal when to cross. I don’t remember my dad telling me about crossing, other than the classic “look both ways twice” lesson.

But I remember being shocked when I moved to Los Angeles (okay, Claremont, but greater LA area) and discovered that crosswalks and jaywalking and stopping for pedestrians were all taken very seriously. While spending time with a friend near the UCLA campus, I got the warning, “Do not jaywalk here: they watch for it so they can give tickets.” I’d visited cities before, of course, but hadn’t been on my own to figure it all out. When we were young marrieds living in Pasadena and Kim was teaching in East LA, the president of the LA Unified teachers union was struck by a car and died…because she’d tried to cross where there wasn’t a crosswalk. That level of serious.

I’m talking about more than crossing streets here. I’m guessing that’s clear.

Can people change their minds?

What happens when we’ve “learned it wrong” and therefore we’ve been “doing it wrong” all our lives? What happens when we’re confronted with being wrong? What about when we’re confronted but know we are right because that’s how we were taught? When the person confronting us can’t possibly know better than we do–I mean, they’re younger, right? Didn’t we teach them? Or they just don’t understand the way we do?

Pastors preached “the inferiority of the the African” in 1861. And also 1961. Many preached segregated worship and that interracial marriage was a sin in the first half of the 20th Century; some preached that well into the second half. Some still preach it now. A whole bunch of people were taught wrong; when they were confronted, how easy do you think it was for them to say, “Oh, I see! Sure. I’ve believed the opposite all my life, but now that someone younger is explaining it to me I get how wrong I was.”

Some people did see they were wrong. Repented. Changed their views, their behaviors, everything.

Some people who spat on Ruby Bridges are still alive. Would they do it again?

Could we change our minds?

Change is hard. Changing our minds is hard. Changing our beliefs is even harder. We constantly deal with confirmation and discomfirmation bias. That’s why the “backfire effect” is a human phemenon. “A backfire effect occurs when an evidence-based correction is presented to an individual and they report believing even more in the very misconception the correction is aiming to rectify.”* I liken the backfire effect to our susceptibility to advertising: most of us recognize that this happens to a lot of people, but only those people. Never us. Only ignorant or gullible people fall for advertising, right? Advertisers are happy for us to believe that.

Recognizing and acknowledging we’re wrong becomes even more difficult when we’re deeply invested in our views—especially when we have made these views part of our identity–and when we have our wrong view(s) reinforced by others. That’s why the echo chambers are so powerful at insulating us and so devastating for real dialogue and learning.

So I’m talking about this ficitonal case in which a confident, experienced adult driver has learned completely wrong regarding pedestrians and crosswalks. If the driver from my state goes home and looks up “Rules of the Road” and reads–

Summary of Washington State Crosswalk Law

Every intersection is a crosswalk, unless there are posted signs.

Drivers are required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at every crosswalk, marked or unmarked.

–does the driver change his or her mind? What if the person later has a conversation with friends and they all say “Oh, that’s such a bleep bleep weak law! Cars and trucks are how many times heavier and stronger than people? Why should we have to stop when we could just run them over? They should stay the bleep out of our way!” We imagine ourselves independent thinkers. But realizing that we would have to contradict what our community/friend group/family believes in order to change our minds is a powerful force in keeping us from reconsidering our views, even when confronted with “an evidence-based correction.” We probably think too highly of our independence. Put more strongly, we’re probably fooling ourselves that we make all autonomous,independent decisions about what we believe.

Of course, none of us are bearing down on pedestrians, honking wildly and gesturing for them to get out of the way or cursing them for having the nerve to cross in front of us.** But also, none of us have any wrong beliefs or views that need correction. Right?

Changing mine

So I’m going to get personal now, and I’m expecting to lose some readers/subscribers/followers with this, unless those people have already given up on me. But I’m okay with it, if that needs to happen, because the alternative is no longer okay with me. I was wrong about homosexuality. That’s a strange, impersonal way to say it. My belief about people who identify as homosexual was quite wrong, and I have changed that view accordingly. Guess what? Some people who used to consider me a friend and part of their community no longer do, in direct response to this change. I trust you know I’m neither kidding nor exaggerating. I’ve long considered writing a post on my changed view of the LGBTQ community, but it’s much too personal for me to want to come across as calling attention to myself about it. If you haven’t lived this the way I have, you probably shouldn’t critique. If you have, I’m open to hearing but I’ll let you know right now that I’ll pity you if you conclude that your own child is damned to hell. I hope that’s clear and direct enough.

I considered myself “accepting,” as in, “God still accepts you, even though you’re a sinner, just as God accepts me even with my sins.” Now that I’ve been able to hear it from the other side, I’ve learned how unloving this sounds. Now I understand, without reservation or hesitation, that God loves all of us, them and me, without hesitation or reservation. Affirming, I’ve learned, is very different than accepting. Jesus, in his infinite wisdom and excellent sense of humor, had plans for me to be several people’s safe person to whom they could come out–which meant I had to get my views sorted before that. I will write more on this at some point, but not yet.

The difference between “I will grudgingly brake and give you time to dive out of the way before I hit you” versus “you have the right to walk there and I have the obligation, both legal and moral, to stop for you” turns out to be significant.

It’s just an analogy, or a smidge of a metaphor, so please don’t get offended at the parts that don’t fit. But before, I would have said, “They shouldn’t be crossing for their own good!” Now I’m clear that they have every right, legal and otherwise, to cross there and it’s my problem if I don’t like it. Not theirs. Mine.

The process of change wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t just click to a different view. I had to do a lot of soul searching and praying. I had to wrestle with how I understood Scripture. I had to overcome my fear of rejection by those who disagree. But God is gracious and merciful, and got me working on the paradigm shift long before Rowan came out to me. I’m eternally grateful to Jesus for that. You don’t get a second try at how you first respond. I love my son to the moon and back. The love God gives me for Rowan as his father is the bottom line. That is theology: God is love, God loves me, and God both loves my child and creates me to love my child in the same way.***

It’s sobering to think I might have other pedestrian-right-of-way views that need changing as badly as this did. But I believe in grace. I fully believe that we should not hate ourselves for what we did not know or understand, yet when we know better, we must do better.

I’m going to say one more thing. I like people to like me. I mean I have a nearly-obsessive concern with what others think of me. Chasing this craving tempts me to sin. It tempts me to remain silent when I should speak. I’ve taken significant, concrete steps of repentance, including writing a book. So if your honest response–maybe one that you acknowledge only in the privacy of your own mind or can’t (yet) even fully admit to yourself–is that you can’t face what certain people would think of you if you changed a belief or “came out” with new views (so to speak), know that I hear you and empathize. A lot.

I told myself for years that I was going to speak up more boldy “at some point.” We call that “rationalization.” Or “denial,” take your pick. I had to get over it and speak up or live with my hypocrisy. I know, that’s a harsh word. I’m simply describing my own process. It didn’t feel like I was merely “keeping my opinions to myself” or “keeping the peace” (as I kept insisting to myself), but that I was being a hypocrite by supporting certain ideas and people…but not publicly.

Acknowledging that we’re wrong, heck, even admitting the real possibility that we’re wrong, takes courage. Fear in us resists evan asking the question, fear both of opening ourselves to criticism and of tipping a domino that could knock over others–God knows how many? I say that not profanely, but in humble faith. God does know how many. God knows the areas in our lives where we’re still terrorizing pedestrians. I hope our beliefs are not a house of cards that will collapse if the wrong one gets pulled out. But if we’re wrong and hurting others, I pray we’ll take the risk of looking at our lives, a process which is far more complex and scary than reading the rules of the road, to see if we’ve been mistaken all along.

* Lewandowsky, Ecker, Seifert, Schwarz, & Cook 2012. There is currently a debate how prevalent the backfire effect is.

**Okay, if you are doing this frequently, I’m going to say–without judging you–that you have anger issues. But we all have issues.

***Let me just repeat, I’m not interested in debating this when that debate is an abstract, theoretical, academic exercise for someone else and life or death for my child, or for anyone’s child. I hope that makes sense.

3 thoughts on “Terrorizing Pedestrians

  1. Steve Murdock

    Wow. Just “wow.” This is perhaps IMO one of your most insightful and powerful messages I’ve read. Personal insight to paradigm shifts is the best way to encourage others to self-reflection and taking steps to change perceptions. I applaud you and thank you for sharing this personal story of love and acceptance.

  2. Doug DeJong

    I actually had to “re-learn” the pedestrian rules when I moved from small town to the big city too! Fortunately we do have the capacity to re-learn important things in life if we keep our hearts and minds open. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Michelle Gregory

    Wow!!! This is just a stunning piece to read. It is not only well written, intriguing, easy to follow, but it touched my soul. It is so on point for what I grapple with almost on the daily, being my authentic self and dealing with my compulsive need for people to like me. The concept of Grace that permeates lots of your ideas is just beautiful and mesmerizing to me. Thank-you!!!

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