Even though our hearts mostly remain on the road, Penny Lane still resides in Dallas, so when we head off to our next adventure, the most dangerous aspect is usually this: leaving Dallas. It’s a city of over 1 million people, but when you add in all the surrounding cities that it’s grown into, the total inhabitants swell to over 7 million.
Each of the 7 million people likes their own space so the sprawl definitely sprawls, and getting out of the city takes some time. The highway system is very well designed to support the large number of cars, but traffic can get nasty.
The people can also get nasty and as they say, everything is bigger in Texas, which includes the number of road raged drivers! Dallas driving has gained a reputation that befalls many similarly large cities, one where people would rather you die than let you merge in front of them.
We’ve experienced this numerous times while driving with the trailer and found the best way to cope is to not use your turn signals. If people don’t know your intentions, they can’t speed up just as you’re trying to merge.
I got to thinking about why people are such A holes on the road and realized there’s another “space” where they’re the same – in the online, anonymous world. People are never so mean to each other as when they can remain anonymous. Apparently, our cars provide a level of protection from the “real world”.
People can be mean on sidewalks too, but they’re much less likely to because they aren’t anonymous. When is the last time someone honked at you and flipped you off after you cut them off while walking on the sidewalk?
While drivers in big cities might rather run you into the ditch than let you get in front of them, drivers in small towns are notoriously the opposite. When four cars approach a four way stop in small town Oklahoma, you might wait for hours while everyone tries to wave the other person on. It’s not that only nice people live in small towns, but instead that there’s a good chance they know the person they could’ve otherwise been mean to.
The anonymity of a city shows no pity. There are few ramifications if I’m mean to someone here because there’s a small chance of them ever associating the actions with the real me. Our grandparents wouldn’t have gone to church together and our parents don’t attend the same rotary club. I’m not going to see them at the grocery store, and probability says I’ll never even see them again.
So go ahead, be an A hole.
My latest book accomplishment was reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. It’s full of good quotes that I’ll share with you along the way, but he noticed a similar issue with anonymity even 240 years ago.
A man of low condition, on the contrary, is far from being a distinguished member of any great society. While he remains in a country village his conduct may be attended to, and he may have what is called a character to lose. But as soon as he comes into a great city, he is sunk in obscurity and darkness. His conduct is observed and attended to by nobody, and he is therefore very likely to neglect it himself, and to abandon himself to every sort of low profligacy and vice.
He takes it much further than simply showing kindness and goes into self-respect. The reason he says “low condition” is because earlier on the page he says, “A man of rank and fortune is by his station the distinguished member of a great society, who attend to every part of his conduct, and who thereby oblige to attend him to every part of it himself.”
He says people of a higher condition essentially have more to lose as they closely attend to their reputation. However, most people want respect, whether “high” or “low” society, so I think the social connections are even more important than social rankings when it comes to kindness. Smith gives the advice to the low society man:
He never emerges so effectually from this obscurity, his conduct never excites so much attention of any respectable society, as by his becoming the member of a small religious sect.
The small religious sect takes away some of his anonymity and he becomes empathetic towards others again. He’ll probably stop cutting people off with his horse too (do you think they had “horse road rage” 250 years ago…).
If you think you might know the person or meet them in the future, you’ll probably let them merge. If you think you’ll never see them again, you’ll probably rather them wreck than let them get in front of you (Okay, maybe not literally “you”, but the proverbial big city and heartless “you”).
So next time you see someone bravely pulling a camper through a large city, think of me and our relationship, and let them merge in.