Sunday, May 2, 2010
Driver who almost took me out at the four-way stop on Friday: I love you
"Philia (φιλία philía) means friendship in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philos denoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers." (from Wikipedia)
I rolled up to a four-way stop on Friday morning. The street wasn't unusually busy, and everything felt routine. One car was already stopped across from me, another car was approaching about ten seconds out on the right when I stopped. I was clearly second in sequence. I stopped completely, in the lane, put down my foot, watched as first-in-line went through the intersection, then started through myself when it was safe to do so. My rear wheel was about five feet across the line when car number two arrived at the stop line on the right. She slowed down, looked right at me, and continued through the intersection. I quickly thought, if she turns right or goes straight, I'm OK, and if she turns left, I'm dead. I could hear her accelerating. I think I checked my perception of what was to my right to see if I had a safe out that way. She went straight. My front tire was about a foot from her as she rolled by me. I yelled at her window to alert her to my presence. She may have gestured at me, although with the window tint I couldn't see. She continued accelerating and drove away without even touching her brake pedal.
Anger. Adrenaline. Violent thoughts. A little shaking. These are normal reactions, and I was fighting them as I rolled down the street on the other side. Why fight against normal reactions? Simple: I'm better than that. We can do better than that.
If given the chance to discuss with her what she did, now, I would tell her: I love you in the Aristotelian sense of philia, a dispassionate, virtuous love of equality, familiarity, and identification. Equality because under the law at a four-way stop, my bike and your car are equals. Familiarity because I drive a car, too, and know what it's like to be rushed, impatient, stressed out, and distracted behind the wheel of a two ton gas-powered steel death machine with the stereo blasting and the Blackberry buzzing its fool head off. Identification, because we're both human beings, and not that different after all. Because of that identification, I know deep inside that allowing my normal reactions to get the upper hand will not result in an improvement of relations between us. Yelling at you or worse would only result in you yelling back or worse, and that's not really what I want. I know that what is actually required is for one of us to reach for something higher, philia, to be a better steward of road relations. I can be a caveman with a big stick along with the rest of my species, but I don't actually want my family to be stuck in that world of lizard brain amygdala-driven relations. We can do better. Much, much better. I have seen it happen. So have you.
So: driver who almost took me out at the four-way stop on Friday: I love you, and I apologize for yelling at you. Please allow me to buy you a cup of coffee, or a cold beverage. Let's hear your side of the story. Even if you drove your death machine at me on purpose, I would like to understand why. I believe, even in that case, we could still part as friends, because I assure you the feeling is not reciprocal. I understand your reaction, but believe that we have to do better in order to live better. Next time, I will strive to wave and smile as you almost hit me, sending you peaceful energy filled with philia, and hope that it has some small effect on your future actions. I'm a person too. I love you like Aristotle. Peace. Get up. Go ride.