It’s a little after midday and I’m running late for a meeting with a new client. Well, driving late for a meeting.
There’s no hiding it, being late causes me great anxiety. It doesn’t matter whether I’m going to a fun family event or somewhere excruciatingly painful, like a corporate event. I hate it.
Some people cope with this feeling exceedingly well. Like they don’t even care. Being late—missing important early moments—is just part of their natural being.
One day, science will study these people and confirm what I’ve suspected all along: they aren’t human. We’ll learn that they actually have a key segment of their DNA missing, the very start of it. And we may have to reclassify them as a new species, Homo unpunctualis.
Anyway, today I’m not in the best of moods. My journey has only just began and I’ve already had an argument with my GPS lady. She insists on calling the freeway on-ramp a ‘slip road’ despite no evidence of ice or an oil slick.
And had I not been so distracted, I might have noticed the freeway I’m about to enter is gridlocked. There must have been an accident.
“What sort of dickhead crashes at this time of the day?” I say out loud, seething.
Feeling my blood pressure rise, I start imagining who the culprit is. Probably an overpaid executive in his black BMW, phone glued to his hear (because he can afford the fines) and not paying attention. I despise him.
My thoughts are momentarily interrupted when the radio announcer tells me to avoid the freeway due to an accident. Wonderfully helpful.
But it does make me think, what if the accident is more serious than I thought. I start to feel guilty about what I said. The dickhead remark. Shouldn’t my first reaction have been out of concern for others?
When did we all become so busy and self-obsessed that we fail to show compassion for our fellow human beings? Even if they can’t drive.
Is this just a symptom of living in a big city, where we can be surrounded by people but still feel disconnected?
Cities are marvels of the modern world. Centres of culture and enterprise. They bring together people from all walks of life. But how together are we?
I’ve always wondered, from an evolutionary perspective, whether or not human beings are particularly well-adapted to living in cities. We spent thousands of years living in close-knit, interdependent groups. And now we have rent-a-friend services.
Loneliness is a serious issue, especially in big cities. I’ve read that people suffering loneliness can exhibit the same brain patterns as people in jail. We have basically created giant, free-range prisons for ourselves.
Looking left and right at my fellow drivers and their frustrated faces, I don’t know any of them. They are complete strangers to me—except one guy who looks vaguely familiar. I think he’s married to my cousin (though, that doesn’t really narrow it down).
And of course it’s not just the isolation we have to worry about. Or the traffic. Or the parking. There is noise, pollution, and endless stress to deal with. City-living can seriously affect our moods and has even been linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.
Who hasn’t dreamed of packing it all in and moving to the country? I certainly have. I am now.
I once again think about the person who caused this mass inconvenience. Except this time, I image her a lonely outcast, fired from her job, mourning a dead cat, and whose day just got a whole lot worse. Chin up, my friend. You are not alone.
Yes, I am going to be late for my meeting. But it’s not the end of the world. Others are in far worse situations. At least I have a job and a car and a family who misses me and a cat who tolerates me.
I’m feeling much calmer now and in response to my newfound peace the traffic starts to flow. Before long, I reach the accident site and for the first time lay my eyes on the vehicle that started this whole thing.
It’s a black Mercedes.
As I inch further, I see a man in an expensive suit standing on the side of the road. He clearly owns the now-crumpled Mercedes. He’s on the phone—probably the same call he was on when he caused the accident.
Eager to get a better look at his face, I wind down my window—when something magical happens. In a rare moment of human connection, we make solid eye-contact for three or four seconds. And at that moment, I see his vulnerability. His struggles. His desperate need for someone to care.
Surely this man, in his time of crisis, deserves my compassion and understanding.
Sorry. Not today, Hugo Boss.
Without hesitation, I ungracefully extend my middle finger in his direction, thanking him for his contribution, and I continue on my way.