There’s this theory I have about driving in Lagos traffic.
You know how when you try to overtake people, they won’t let you? How that’s exactly when they accelerate just to cut you off? (It’s annoying, I know—maybe the only thing more annoying is how you find yourself doing it after awhile.) Most outsiders don’t get why we Lagos drivers often don’t signal that we’re changing lanes until the last minute (or until we swerve into a free space), but it really just comes down to the simple fact that to signal like that might leave you waiting a good while to change lanes. And we Lagosians are in a hurry: we’ve got places to go and things to do!
Anyway, so over time, I’ve developed this theory:
If you can get the other person to look at you, it’s harder for them to still cut you off.
(Okay, just chill: calm down. I said it’s harder, not impossible. Some people are just really mean.)
But my point is, I think it’s actually harder for the average person to be mean to you when it’s personal. (The average person—like I said, some people are just mean.) Most people can only go ahead and be mean when they don’t know you, or when they act like in that moment, you’re not a real person. I’m serious—you should try it out, and tell me how many times out of 10 your findings are different.
This shows up in many other ways, too. It’s why we typically don’t look at beggars we’ve decided not to give money to. It’s what makes it hard for the average person to look you in the eye when they’re lying to you. It’s why people tend to be nasty online in ways they often aren’t in real life.
And it’s why when people do really horrific things like sexually molest kids or blow up people, they probably aren’t thinking of them as persons: to them, in that moment at least, the other people are less than human, more like things. (The technical name for it is “objectifying people.”)
And we all do it. In many different ways, in a myriad of contexts. You can probably think of a few more examples yourself. And if you’re having trouble coming up with examples, just think how many times you’ve felt awkward when you found out the person you were beefing was someone you knew! Yeah, that’s when it got personal.
Don’t take my word for it, though: try it yourself. Your next time in traffic (which will probably be pretty soon), try to make eye contact, smile, wave. And see if they don’t let you in their lane (or at least apologise for not deciding on time).
All just to say, getting personal might feel stressful sometimes, but when we do—when we acknowledge our shared humanity—we actually become more humane ourselves. And maybe more human.
To put it differently, in that moment when you catch a stranger’s eye, they become a fellow human being.
But when you don’t? Go figure.
Think about that next time you’re on the road.
I want to hear from you: what’s your take? Share in the comments just below, will you?