Feb 13, 2011

That Guy

That Guy look familiar?

I never wanted to be That Guy. And yet there I was, yammering away on my cellphone, most likely driving way too fast. It’s a pity I couldn’t have been sporting a luxury sedan and an expensive suit, as long as I was already filling the stereotype of heedless motorist. I saw the pedestrian in the crosswalk in plenty of time though, and came to a not quite screeching halt to let her have the right of way before continuing my right turn.

The pedestrian, a dark-haired woman probably in her late forties wearing a large coat and mint-green backpack, shook her head disdainfully and mouthed “Put away the phone” as she crossed in front of me.

“I know, I know” I replied, though the phone remained glued to my ear. J was in midsentence and I didn’t want to cut him off. Once the woman was safely past, I drove on, and hurriedly ended the conversation. The incident had been just a moment and yet I couldn’t shake it. The woman’s smug sanctimony was all the more infuriating because she was right. Of course I shouldn’t have been driving while talking. Reprimands are never fun—they sting our pride and prick our conscience. But it was more than the correction that bothered me—it was the sense of having been misunderstood.

The woman’s look said it all: “I know your kind, on the road, in the restaurant, at the grocery checkout line, recklessly disregarding the safety and comfort of others so you can shout your all-important conversation into your flashy smart phone”. And I wanted to cry out in my defense: “No, you don’t understand! I’m not that guy. I usually don’t talk on the phone while driving or in the restaurant. This is not who I am!”

The truth is none of us want to be “That Guy.” The Cell-Phone Talker, the Cheap Tipper, the Rude Driver, the Indulgent Parent with the kid running amok, the Braggart, the Busybody, the Jerk. We view “That Guy” with disgust, disdain, and if we’re feeling particularly generous and not in immediate danger, with condescending pity. And yet, at one point or another we are all “That Guy.” We want to describe ourselves in terms of our best behavior, but to the strangers we pass, we are often defined by our ill-chosen actions of the moment. Remember, when we encounter “That Guy” that his or her actions in that single moment are likely not the sum of who he or she is. We don’t know their story, the good and bad they’ve done. We don’t know the state of their hearts, or what burdens they may be carrying.

So how can we avoid being “That Guy”? Obviously, being more careful and courteous in our behavior and lessening the exceptions to rules of safety and respect we claim to follow are helpful first steps. But I think recognizing that we too can be “That Guy” lessens the likelihood of it actually happening as often. After all, it’s usually those least aware of their own fallibility that are harshest in their judgments of others and are thus most often classically “That Guy”—impatient, critical, demanding.

It’s important to remember everyone is either the tailgater or the slowpoke in the fast lane—it all depends on your perspective. After all, rather than defensively judging the woman in the crosswalk I must extend the same grace to her that I desired for myself. If we can take a spirit of grace, patience, and humility with us as we encounter fellow travelers on the road of life I think we’ll find we see less of “That Guy.” And we won’t be him either.


Mai said...

You need a blue-tooth!!

I often find myself judging and stereotyping the parents of my students, but this post is a good reminder that often I just need a little deeper insight into the situation.

just jess said...

Is talking on the phone illegal where you are like it is in CA?

Good blog. A quote a friend put up on FB "be kinder than necessary, everyone is fighting some kind of battle"

Also, I miss you. Sometimes it's hard to read you guys' blog cause it makes me miss you guys even more.