Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fender Bender for Life

My college teacher, Gerry Bruce, once told us once with a smile that he didn’t have to prepare any lessons for our class: By our actions we generated so many teachable moments. This was for our leadership 201 “how to lead a meeting” class, for in case we found jobs in a small town, and had to facilitate a community meeting.

It seems to me, likewise, that from my actions this week I could come up with my weekly essay topic, even as I am earnestly trying to generate a serious list of future blog files. If so, then my most instructive action of the last week has been a tiny fender bender. Ouch! I was slowly backing up and I hit a Nissan Pathfinder. To avoid any vested interest in being defensive I won’t write about the actual accident. To me, what are most interesting are the various “human factors.”

I have to smile: It’s strange how our young scientists, by coming up with new insights into physics, chemistry and plastics, are making the science publications of our parents obsolete… yet we are still reading Shakespeare plays from hundreds of years ago. We are still learning about humans, and the learning “just ain’t easy.”

In the diversity-and-assimilation file, I learned that a man might have a “strange” first name, yet still use learned academic words like “teensy weensy.” As in “scratches I could wipe out with a wet thumb, and a teensy weensy chip.” Actually, because his name was one syllable it was easy for me to learn (but he had to tell me how to spell it); a multi-syllable name I always have to write down.

In the technology-and-inventions file I learned that fiberglass is truly light. How light? If your fender is a little off, then don’t drive on the freeway. The grabbing wind does “strannnnge” things. Meanwhile, my modern car still comes with a few steel bars inside, but only the barest minimum, no more. After all, we have to get the fuel costs down somehow. Man, how I long for the days when you just smack a dent with a hammer. Incidentally, among certain young of Pacific rim Asians, young North American have a dubious reputation for being willing to drive cars with visible rust and dents. I put this down to American poverty roots, and love of fixing up old cars.

In the ego file, I found myself wanting to minimize or deny: I don’t have accidents, not me! And if I did, well, I’d think, “it doesn’t count—I can explain!” I found myself seriously wanting to get a rental car real fast, before anyone saw my fender. Obviously my ego was warping my truth. Not good. Surely I wouldn’t advise anyone else to wiggle and deny, so why do so myself? “Yes, but—”

This week I have learned something happy: Even when my ego is in “desperation mode” it takes surprisingly little self-talk, very little, to set myself straight again. “Tell the truth and shame the devil,” says I.

In my old family, sad to say, we didn’t have the word “self-talk” in our vocabulary, and our unspoken saying was, “There’s nothing wrong with this family…and don’t you dare tell anyone!”

As for surviving a family such as mine, a fortnight ago (In I am Not Oblomov) I posted a link to a radio interview of survivors of sibling abuse. After my fender accident, a man of my background told me he doesn’t ask for help the way other people do, because he doesn’t think he will get any help. I replied, “When I go to make a fender bender report at the police station I expect to be yelled at.” I told this to the nice cop at the station who responded, “Really?” And then, another cop who was there typing away nodded his head “yes” as the constable added, “…well, we could ask him to yell at you. (We all silently laughed)

Derision is not called for. My college instructor, a man of key phrases, used to tell us, “If you point an accusing or judgmental finger at someone else then you have three of your fingers pointing back at you.” Another phrase he would often say, after he gave us descriptive feedback, was “Defensive comments are not necessary.” Down the years, as you might imagine, I am still trying to be as good a chairman as he was; meanwhile every time I drive a tiny bit over the posted speed limit I know, sadly, I am still failing to be as good a driver as my driving instructor. Oh well. As Shakespeare could have said, it’s nice to live and learn.

Sean Crawford

~Yes, I may exceed the speed limit when keeping within group traffic flow—that’s only common sense.

~I am reminded of two Chinese proverbs,
One good teacher is worth a ton of books
He who teaches me for a day is my father for life

Translated by Emil William Chynn
Copyright by Armand Eisen
Published by Andrews McMeel

Kansas City, Missouri

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