You rush into your 7am Yoga class five minutes late interrupting the teacher and class — forcing her to pause and taking the other participants who showed up on time out of their flow. You quickly tip toe like an elephant weaving your way through the crowd to the free mat in the corner apologizing as you go.
Later that day you are running late for a client meeting and need to cut across town quickly. The fastest route requires you to make a left hand turn at a major intersection even though the sign clearly indicates it is not permitted between 3pm — 6pm. Being four-thirty, you are already late and decide to go for it. Turning on your indicator you stop at the intersection to the frustration of honks and shouts from a line a cars behind you. With the steering wheel clenched tight and not making eye contact with anyone, you wait for the light to turn yellow. You’re off — never to see those people again. Only going to be seven minutes late now.
We don’t do these things to exercise power over other people in a malicious manner. In those moments we barely acknowledge the other person(s). This behavior derives from carelessness, bad habits and an ever-shrinking attention span. We know we are in the wrong, yet we convince ourselves it is not a big deal.
We apologize, not say sorry — there is a big difference between the two. One is an act of awareness, contrition and promise to be better in the future. The other is a socially accepted phrase to make the situation go away as quickly as possible so we can get back to doing what we want.
The most frustrating part of being on the receiving end of these situations is none of this is ill intentioned. We don’t think we are better or more important than everyone else in those moments. In fact, we are kind, empathetic, giving people who others would generously praise. So how do good people do selfish things?
A lot of small factors contribute, but I want to draw attention towards two key factors that affect us all. The first is we are busier than we ever have been. Or at least we think we are. But what feels or appears to be busy is actually an access and filtering problem.
Our access to things, information, ideas and people is almost infinite. In the sense that in one lifetime you could not take in everything that exists. The other side of that problem is filtering through all of it to find the pieces you uniquely care about, need and want.
This challenge is fairly new and we tend to mock it with things like FOMO (fear of missing out), but the impact it is having on our day-to-day is significant. We think we can and should do more, have more, be more and this is not always met with the ability, time or need. Filtering what we have access to is a big job and one most of us are fumbling our way through.
The result is we often over estimate what we know or can do and that causes us to under deliver or perform.
The other key factor is the slippery slope theory. It views decisions not on their own, but as the potential beginning of a trend. In general form, this argument says that if we allow something relatively harmless today, it may start a trend that results in something currently unthinkable becoming accepted. Meaning when you tried to turn left during the hours the sign clearly indicates you cannot and got away with it two key things happened.
First you are more likely to follow it up with another selfish or illegal action. Second, you show to others around that they can also do the same or similar selfish and illegal actions. When you held up those dozens cars it is not a big deal, but if the person behind you does the same thing and holds up more cars and someone else in the line sees this and follows suit, the ripple affect is significant. And that is just one incident.
The place we push the boundaries of selfishness the most is with time. We each have the same minutes in the day. When you choose to value your minutes above someone else’s is when you act as if you are better than them.
My biggest frustration is texting someone at the exact agreed upon time to tell them you are running 5-minutes late. I am guilty of doing this, but it is complete bullshit and inconsiderate. Before we could send unlimited texts we were more likely to stick to our agreed upon schedule and show up on time, let alone 5-minutes early like we were taught. And it’s always a text, not a phone call. That level of personal confrontation and guilt is so much easier to brush off when it’s in short written form. But the most frustrating part of this dance is I knew I was going to be late well before I arrived such, and yet I waited to tell you then because I don’t want to appear rude and it’s easy to say “be there in 5.”
It is so rare something honestly holds me up causing me to be late. Almost always it was simply not giving enough of a shit about your time to arrive when we agreed. I under prepared and estimated my day and you are the one who as to suffer for my inability.
That doesn’t mean I don’t give a shit about you, just your time — as if they are two different things, which they are not. Yet in the twisted narrative in my head I separate them so I cannot be guilty of being an asshole. And sure, part of me does it because it happened a handful of times to me or by me just this week alone. For that I apologize, which simply means I know it is wrong, but stop making me feel bad and let’s move on to what I want. If I were really sorry I wouldn’t do it again. And we all know how that turned out. The slippery slope is most dangerous around the small things.
I am actually sorry, and making effort to learn and correct as much of this behavior of mine as I can. We each need to take note of our small behaviors and the impact they have on other people. Just because someone didn’t call you out or you got in trouble for doing something shitty to another person doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Start by acknowledging it, saying and being sorry and correcting it without being prompted. Plan better, invert the slippery slope theory and align your beliefs and values with your actions.