Can Anger Lead To Critical Thinking..? Probably Not.
The other day I was driving home from the office and stopped at a red light. It was at that point that I noticed a cyclist pull up beside me. Nothing out of the ordinary, other than he was awkwardly attempting to retain his balance while he waited, presumably so he wouldn’t have to unclip his shoes from his pedals.
I’d like to think I respect my fellow ‘road users’ – but I will say with absolute certainty (because I’ve recently been working on a ‘vehicle for hire’, eLearning program) I have a heightened sense of awareness for the rules of the road. Especially, for sharing the road with cyclists.
Why do I tell you this?
Well, as I passed the cyclist, I was incredibly conscious of the space I was giving him, so much so, I deliberately ‘hugged’ the yellow line to my left that splits the two lanes of traffic. At the ensuing red light with the cyclist now out of my memory and seemingly out of my life forever, I stared blankly ahead waiting for the green light to appear.
When it did, I lifted my foot to the accelerator and then abruptly slammed on the brake.
The cyclist had returned and more importantly, he had steered his bike directly in front of me, hit his breaks forcing me to stop. As I stared bewildered at him, he gestured aggressively, swore at me, clearly angry over some perceived driving error on my part.
Did I drive by him too close? No, absolutely not. For all the reasons I listed at the outset.
Is it possible I hit a puddle, mud patch, created a dust cloud or something as I passed? I suppose.
Is it possible he was taking his aggression out on the wrong car? I guess. But he seemed pretty sure.
Well, irrespective of responsibility, (over) reaction or road user error; this man put his 20lb. bicycle up against my 2-tonne car – to ensure he had my full attention while extracting his pound of flesh. That terrified me. Not his temper tantrum. But rather, the complete lack of critical thinking that went into his decision; even if he viewed his reasons as noble. What if I saw him too late? What if I was equally hostile back?
This experience, led me to my next question, spoken aloud to my family, as I walked in the front door…
“Are we all getting angrier?”
My evidence is all anecdotal. Mostly, from bearing witness to frustrated customers at retailers, people getting out of their cars to accost someone they feel slighted by, social media tirades and nasty replies over politics, videos of terrible interactions between people (I can only assume are normally reasonable) until they are forced to: line up, where a mask, fill in a form, answer some questions, wait longer for a coffee, elevator, sandwich etc.
Is this all because of COVID-19, or have people always been this angry and now they are letting loose?
The learning professional in me wants to understand it and offer support to fix it. Leaders tell me all the time; no soft skill is more important to success than ‘critical thinking’. Well then, to apply critical thought to a problem – real or imagined, requires data, analysis, reflection and solutioning. So, are we ready to think critically?
I know one thing, yelling at the car behind us, only creates an echo. If our new normal includes a regular and healthy dose of hostility to our fellow ‘man’… It will be a hard road back to civility.