Ask most any Canadian and they’ll confirm that Montreal hosts some of the most aggressive drivers in the world. But let me tell you, my Uncle Stan has them all beat.
A native Montrealer now splitting his time between Toronto and Boca Raton, my 79-year-old Uncle Stan — a tall bear of a man with a clipped grey hair and a short, white Hemmingway-esque beard — takes traffic combativeness to an all-new level. During a recent jaunt with him around his native city, I watch my uncle avert no less than 7 surely-fatal accidents with split-second maneuvers that would have impressed Mario Andretti, narrated hilariously by Stan’s incessant flow of Yiddish expletives.
“Take that you putz!” my uncle exclaims as he darts in front of a silver Honda with inches to spare.
“Don’t you tailgate me, you schmuck!” he bellows at a black BMW which has dared to venture within five feet of our bumper.
Although I have my eyes squeezed shut in terror for much of our journey, I have to give credit where credit is due; despite his antics, Uncle Stan gets us across town (and all the way to the Laurentian Mountains) in good time and in one piece. Admittedly, some of Stan’s comments are pretty funny, in a Woody Allen movie kind of way, but looking back, I have to wonder, what kind of mindset might have inspired this kind of manic driving behavior. Surely combativeness is not infused in the Montreal water supply.
Seeking a solution to this puzzle, I turn to my mom for insight.
“Oh, my brother’s always been like that”, she replies. “Argumentative! A know it all! You should see what he’s like when he’s playing bridge. Completely cut throat!”
Gradually a picture of my Uncle Stan’s approach to life begins to emerge. From my uncle’s perspective:
The world is an arena.
It’s dog eat dog out there.
If I don’t knock down my opponents, they’ll take advantage of me.
If I fight, I might take some bruises but at least people will respect me.
In the game of life, there are winners and losers; I always make sure the other guy is the loser.
This way of thinking would certainly explain his driving patterns.
But does it have to be that way — for Uncle Stan…and for all of us?
How might things be different if we could all raise our energy above a continual attitude of competition and start looking for opportunities both to collaborate and to serve? What might life look like if we co-created win-win (rather than “I win/you lose”) situations?
The thing is, viewing the world as a boxing match isn’t just harmful to your “opponents”; it rebounds back on you as well, diminishing your relationships, increasing stress (and cortisol in your body), and cutting you off from potential new connections.
With a shift in perspective, here’s what my dream road trip with my uncle my might one day look like:
“Hey Uncle Stan, that guy just cut you off!”
“Yes, Dave, he certainly did. But did you notice that his lane was ending. I’m guessing that he just noticed his predicament; we wouldn’t want him to get squeezed off of the highway, would we? Imagine how that would stink for him, getting re-routed away from his destination.”
“Okay, that makes sense. But what about that woman tailgating you? You going to let that stand?”
“You know, I don’t really care for that kind of driving; it’s dangerous and if I had to make a sudden stop, we might have a collision. However, there’s not much I can do about it except keep on driving at my current speed. Eventually she’ll get frustrated and go around me, which will be better for everyone.
“But won’t she beat you down the road of life.”
“Look, I’m sorry that she’s in such a hurry that she’s putting everyone at risk, but who knows what her situation is? Perhaps she’s got a sick child in the hospital. In any case, all I can do is take care of my own, calm driving. We’ll get to our destination when we get there. There’s no reason to be a putz!”
What a different trip that would be.