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STORM: Some people would benefit from a pit stop

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

When I was young, my family made many long car trips in our trusty station wagon. There were five of us siblings, and we were spread across the vehicle — one in the front with our parents, three in the central seat and one lucky soul (usually me) in the “jump seat” way the very back of the wagon, surrounded by luggage.

The jump seat wasn’t much fun, but the worst seat in the car was in the center of the middle row. The poor kid stuck in the “hump” spot not only had no leg room but also was poked and pushed throughout the ride by at least two surly siblings.

As you might guess, this led to fights that got louder as the miles rolled on. At some point in every trip, my mother would snap, “OK we’re going to make a pit stop!” We would pull over to a gas station and tumble out the car to stretch our legs, have a snack and work off some of the excess energy that was making us all so cranky. We got back in the car calmer and quieter. The pit stop was my mother’s secret weapon. 

I’ve often thought about that particular trick when I’ve seen drivers weaving in and out of traffic, riding other vehicle’s bumpers, honking their horns, making crude gestures and just generally being jerks. 

“That guy needs a pit stop,” I think, knowing that his aggressive attitude is putting him and the people around him at risk.

In my opinion, the world in general needs more pit stops, and less of get-out-of-my-way pushiness. Pondering this, I came up with a few other things the world could use more of — and less of as well.

The world could use more compassion — and less generalization.

How many times have you heard a variation of the theme, “All young people are (fill in the blank) or all old folks are (some other overbroad statement)?” People use that kind of simplistic generalization for politics, religion, race, ethnic background and more. And it is ridiculous.

People are nuanced. They have a variety of experiences during their lifetimes and their opinions are constantly evolving. Give them some credit for that. And if you’re feeling brave, do more. Reach out to someone who you have secretly lumped into a fixed category and discover what he or she is really like. I suspect you will realize that the world is full of individuals, all of whom have hopes, dreams, fears and faults. Get to know this, and it’s hard not to develop compassion for people, even if they don’t share your particular worldview.

The world could use more humor — and less anger.

“Why is everybody so mad all the time?” I ask myself when I see videos posted online, read Facebook posts or listen to commentators. I suppose fury drives online clicks and TV ratings, but it’s turning this country into a fizzling stew pot of discontent. It also feeds the “us verses them” mentality that leads to the generalizations I mentioned above.  

I would love to see people take a deep breath and let go of their rage. Life is so much easier when you can laugh at yourself and at the absurdity around you. Whether it’s listening to a favorite comedian or viewing silly cat videos online, all of us can find something to giggle about. We need more giggles in life. Laughter tends to make us kinder, better people with a lot less to stew about.

The world could use less selfishness and more open-handed generosity.

I know there are a lot of unselfish people in the world. But some days I feel as though they are overshadowed by the legion of folks who cut in front of others in the supermarket line, grab the last cookie or whine about being slightly inconvenienced when others are in far worse straits.

The answer, of course, is to look around you. Notice how other people are struggling. Do what you can so to help — even the smallest gesture is meaningful. 

Refill the cookie jar. Let someone with a few items check out before you do. There is power and joy in generosity. 

In truth, that power is our secret weapon to make the world a calmer, happier place.

Contact Janet Storm at jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.

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