Getting through life’s traffic jams
“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about people by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.” —Maya Angelou
California’s flamboyant Sen. S. I. Hayakawa added a fourth situation that brings out the best and the worst in people: a traffic jam.
Hayakawa grew up observing motormen on the Indiana Avenue streetcar line in Chicago. The street was often blocked by badly parked cars. Huge trailer trucks were forever backing into warehouses to unload their deliveries. Traffic often came to a standstill.
As a child, Hayakawa observed how differently the motormen reacted when they were unable to move their vehicle. Some went ballistic, going into full-blown road rage. They would clang their bells or sit on their horns or lean out the window and slap the outside of the door or the top of the roof with their left hand or shout obscenities or gesture dramatically. They seemed to Hayakawa as if they might be working up a stroke or a coronary.
Others trapped in the same circumstances would sit and wait indefinitely, showing little or no impatience or agitation. Some would calmly whistle a tune. Some would clean their fingernails. Some would fill out their reports, make a grocery list or work on a crossword puzzle. Some appeared grateful to have a job that allowed opportunities for rest breaks.
Epictetus taught that the one most important thing you can do to have a happy life is to distinguish between things you can’t control and things you can.
Memorizing the prayer that Reinhold Niebuhr composed can help in a traffic jam: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”