Dawn Klemann

Dawn Klemann

While driving recently I witnessed a situation that made me wonder about how we all choose to react when we encounter unexpected situations, on the road and in life.

I don’t know if this is part of the driving test, but witnessing it made it seem worth asking.

What would you do if you were driving along the Interstate in the left lane, and a car (let’s call him “Trouble”) came speeding up behind you?

Would you:

A) Stay in your lane, slow to a crawl, and pump your brakes so Trouble is forced to either pass you or hit you?

Or would you:

B) Quickly move to the right and let Trouble pass.

If you choose A:

You may feel the need to prove yourself. Consequently, you may experience ongoing challenges because you are easily affected emotionally and personally by the actions of others.

It can be difficult to let things go, even when you know better. You may be easily taken off course, without realizing how or why you are where you find yourself. Although others may enjoy your free and passionate nature, you may experience more pain than pleasure as a result.

If you choose B:

You may be considered focused but also flexible. You may be able to realize your goals, while also recognizing potential obstacles along the way.

With that, you may be less reactive and fearful when faced with negativity and instead are able to distinguish between your problems and the problems of others. Although it may be difficult for others to affect you, you are able to maintain a warm and kind demeanor while also setting limits with others.

In order to change lanes and let Trouble pass, we must imagine that Trouble’s behavior has nothing to do with us. It could be that his loved one is dying across town. In this case, there is no question. We would gladly move out of his way. But more than that, we might even wish him well. After all, how differently would we behave under the same circumstance? So, not only would you move, but you would move with compassion and love.

The same is true in encounters with others off the road. In order to not take the bad behavior of another personally, I have to know that his behavior is a consequence of what he is going through, and not a reflection of me or even what he thinks or feels about me. I have to know that in judging him, I am wrong even if I am right.

In the real-life situation of witnessing these drivers, I saw that although Trouble was the aggressor, the other driver engaged him and perpetuated the dance. Trouble threatened to hit the other driver numerous times, but the other driver refused to move. It seemed that at that moment both felt it more important to show strength rather than to give in, no matter how risky.

Interestingly, when it was finally over, I noticed drivers not involved almost straining to get a good look at the driver Trouble left behind. Instead of offering him support, they looked at him angrily, as though blaming him. In the end, he was perceived as the problem.

As unfair as it may be, in life this dynamic exists as well. When we don’t know how to separate ourselves from the bad behavior of others, we can become sucked into a dance that results in unpredictable and even dangerous behavior justified by the bad behavior of another. As a result, we can experience the very pain we struggled to avoid.

The point is, proper lane usage is as critical in life as it is on the road. Drive on the right and pass on the left. When Trouble finds you, move out of the way safely with compassion and love, and enjoy the ride.

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Dawn Klemann, a doctor of psychology, owns PsyD Clinical Solutions in Culpeper. A licensed clinical psychologist and a coaching psychologist, she can be reached at dawn@psydsolutions.com.

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