Truth, Justice, and the American Way
Updated: May 6, 2019
I suffered a minor injustice. It’s not impressive, as injustices go, but it did have an impact on my psyche. It was a fender bender… and it wasn’t my fault, really.
In late January of 2019 a heavy snow blanketed my hometown in Montana. Vehicle traffic compacted the snow into a sheet of ice, and driving conditions were sketchy. While traveling down Main Street, in my Toyota Camry equipped with all-season radials, I noticed two vehicles in the oncoming lane. Apparently, one had overrun a side street intersection onto Main Street, blocking the other vehicle. I didn’t think much of it until the vehicle that overran the stop sign goosed his accelerator. Then, he had my full attention.
As he cut in front of me, I had to veer right to avoid a collision with his right rear side. The abrupt turn caused my car to lose traction and I jumped the curb and bumped a power pole. The airbag did not deploy—I wasn’t going that fast. But I was high-centered in the snow.
The other driver, to his credit, pulled over. The first thing out of his mouth was, “You’re not going to kick my a**, are you?” I smiled and said, “No.” That was the best I could do at the time.
I called the Sheriff’s office and a deputy responded. He took my driver’s license and registration, but when the other driver offered his, the deputy refused. “That’s odd,” I thought. The deputy then dismissed the other driver and told me he was writing the accident up as a “slide-off.” I objected and said, “I didn’t just slide off, I was run off!” The deputy would hear none of it. He said that there was no damage, so he was calling it a slide-off. “But there is damage,” I said, “and I’ve got to pay a tow truck to pull me out.” The deputy was already heading toward his patrol car. I had the thought, “Is this guy late for dinner or what?”
So, there I was, stuck on the side of the road, waiting for a tow that I had to pay for out of my own pocket. The front of the Camry needed $2000 in repairs. Those plastic parts up front don’t come cheap, and neither does a dented hood that required repainting. Insurance picked up all but the $500 deductible. The other driver, in a gentlemanly gesture, looked me up and paid for half of the deductible. (He gets partial credit for that.)
So, the net loss was only $250 and some inconvenience. But even that felt unjust. I had the right of way—the other driver merged in a reckless way—he caused the accident. His insurance should pay.
Following the episode, I called the sheriff to communicate that I didn’t think his deputy did a very good job of getting to the bottom of what happened. The sheriff’s response was testy and impatient. He defended his deputy—not giving my concerns even cursory consideration.
Where else was I supposed to direct my feedback? I thought the sheriff was the deputy’s supervisor, not advocate. But I was wrong. Without any real knowledge of the facts, the sheriff automatically decided for the deputy. End of story.
And that’s the source of my angst. At this stage in life, the money isn’t that big of a deal—although I’m not comfortable just throwing away a couple of hundred dollars. (I spent too much time in poverty for that.) The real problem was that I couldn’t get a fair hearing from either deputy or sheriff. Anger started knocking on the front door of my heart.
Then I remembered the Man School principle that states that a man chooses how he feels. I remembered that I have the power to redirect my emotions in a redemptive way. I used the experience to cultivate deeper empathy for the powerless—for those unjustly accused or those too weak to fight an impersonal, bullying system.
And I decided that I would be okay. I liked myself for having landed in a healthier place. My past experiences with anger have taught me that I don’t too much like myself when I’m that guy.
So, I wasn’t that guy, and I’m okay with the Universe working things out in whatever way is best. My job is to manage me—and the rest of planet Earth is under someone else’s purview.
Professor Dalton Kehoe offers a profound teaching on (what he calls) the error of the common-sense model. He says that people think something happens outside of themselves (a threat, for example), it affects them emotionally, and then their bodies respond (adrenaline, etc.). Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s also wrong.
What really happens, according to Kehoe, is that something happens outside of a person, their body responds, and they choose or affix an emotion to the experience. This is revelatory because it means people choose how they feel. It forever negates the lie that, “You made me angry!”
Affirmation of the Week: I constructively use the energy of complex situations as fuel to power my personal development into next-level living.