Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marshall Rosenberg, on Driving

Some time ago I reflected on how I might apply the principles of nonviolent communication in order to communicate with motorists who frightened me. I wrote a blog post after reading a portion of his most well-known text, "Nonviolent Communication." Tonight, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to find a short discussion of driving in one of the later chapters of the book. (He discusses driving in the excerpt, but the experience described herein has much to teach all of us who travel, whether we choose to use cars, bikes, transit services, or our feet. I know I relate strongly to it, and find its lesson hopeful). Those of us who plan and design transportation systems could provide a much better experience for everybody, I think, if we considered outsider views like this. (Tom Vanderbilt, you're my original inspiration for saying this, and I think your work is exemplary in this regard! Further, the observations below remind me of the early chapters of your book Traffic, where you describe the sociological space of the street as one in which it is often very difficult to communicate, and where we're alienated from understanding other drivers as people.) More importantly, all of us who bike and drive and walk the streets can feel much more peaceful if we take Mr. Rosenberg's advice. Without further ado, here's what Marshall has to say:

For years my work involved traveling by car across the country, and I was worn and frazzled by the violence-provoking messages racing through my brain. Everybody who wasn't driving by my standards was an archenemy, a villain. Thoughts spewed through y head: "What the hell is the matter with that guy!? Doesn't he even watch where he's driving?" In this state of mind, all I wanted was to punish the other driver, and since I couldn't do that, the anger lodged in my body and exacted its toll.

Eventually I learned to translate my judgments into feelings and needs and to give myself empathy, "Boy, I am petrified when people drive like that; I really wish they would see the danger in what they are doing!" Whew! I was amazed how less stressful a situation I could create for myself by simply becoming aware of what I was feeling and needing rather than blaming others.

Later I decided to practice empathy toward other drivers and was rewarded with a gratifying first experience. I was stuck behind a car going far below the speed limit that was slowing down at every intersection. Fuming and grumbling, "That's no way to drive, " I noticed the stress I was causing myself and shifted my thinking instead to what the driver might be feeling and needing. I sensed that the person was lost, feeling confused, and wishing for some patience from those of us following. When the road widened enough for me to pass, I saw that the driver was a woman who looked to be in her 80's who wore an expression of terror on her face. I was pleased that my attempt at empathy had kept me from honking the horn or engaging in my customary tactics of displaying displeasure toward people whose driving bothered me.
(but read the whole book!)