In our humble city of Pullman, Washington, there is no delay from a traffic light turning red and cross traffic’s light going green, so running red lights is especially dangerous. One would think this would stop people from running red lights, but it doesn’t.
Next time you are sitting at a traffic light in your town, do me the favor and time your red light. Let me know in the comments how long your typical light is. In my town, the average time to sit at a light is less than 3 minutes. We don’t have a very complicated traffic system, so most of the time there is just one set of cross traffic.
Can you remember the last time that being 3 minutes late to something changed everything. When I was on the USS Jefferson City in San Diego, I got the best advice from one of my captains. We held quarters each morning first thing and we had a shave and uniform inspection. One of the most common excuses for not shaving was, “I was running late.” The captain told us that it is better to be late and on point than on time and unsatisfactory.
It’s not you, it’s me
So how does being three minutes late or running red lights tie into our current pandemic situation? When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, most states issued stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of this communicable disease. I will not discuss whether or not I agree with this order, but the reason we were issued the order is because we can’t seem to stop running red lights.
For most of us, and yes I am including myself in this group, when we are approaching a green light and we see it turn yellow, our first instinct is to speed up. As a 40-year old man, I will brag that when my wife and kids are with me I almost always react with a press of the brake instead of gas. But, when I am alone, almost 100% of the time I first react by increasing my speed.
The simple answer is that I don’t want to be delayed beyond my control. My 3 minutes are precious to me and my instinct tells me it is more important than you or your safety. Sound harsh? Well it is true. We have this stay-at-home order because as a society, we care more about our own well being than others. In How to win friends and influence people, Carnegie explains that our species is hard wired for self-preservation.
How to stop running red lights
How do we stop? If we are hard wired to try to run those red lights, what are we supposed to do about it? The problem isn’t in our action, but in our philosophy how we see others. To stop running red lights, we must start to look at others as more valuable than we currently do. At a minimum, we should see other’s time and personal space as sacred as our own.
I recommend finding one way each day that you can be a blessing to someone else in your life. If you have a spouse and kids, start there. Make your significant other their cup of coffee instead of them doing it. Watch your kid’s favorite television show without falling asleep or making fun of it. Bonus points if you engage with them and ask questions after.
Making small efforts to impact the lives of others will start to become addictive. Seeing your cashier at the grocery store smile when you greet them, well imagine they are smiling behind the mask, will give you a shot of joy. Instead of speeding to beat the light, stop at the red light and wave at cross traffic as they pass you. Most of them might think you’re weird, but one will likely smile or wave back.
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