It happened again.
I was standing on a corner waiting to cross a busy street.
I was in no hurry, lost in thought.
Just enjoying a pleasant walk in the neighborhood.
Before I realized what was happening, an approaching car had stopped to let me cross. There are four lanes, two each way, and all the other cars instantly followed suit.
Instead of having to wait for a natural break in traffic, I found myself hurrying across four lanes full of idling cars that had stopped for me without being prompted.
This is not what usually happens.
The Power of Letting Go
Usually I’m in some sort of hurry, feeling impatient to cross the street so I can go about my very important business of buying a head of lettuce or mailing a letter.
The steady streams of cars that keep me from crossing when I’m in a hurry seem insensitive to my plight.
A pattern has definitely taken shape in my mind over the years:
The less of a hurry I’m in, the more likely it is that drivers will stop to let me cross the street. The bigger the hurry, the longer the wait. Have you noticed this, too?
I can’t remember a time when traffic spontaneously stopped for me that I wasn’t lallygagging, not caring when I was going to be able to cross.
But there have been dozens of times when I’ve been waiting in an obviously purposeful way, and no one stopped for me despite the fact that I reallyreallyreally wanted to cross.
Instead of just writing this off as Murphy’s Law, I feel drawn to another explanation.
When I’m in a hurry, it shows.
My body language, unconscious though it may be, probably says to approaching drivers, “You should take time out of your day to stop for me because I want to cross the street now, and my time is more important than yours.”
Not surprisingly, this message doesn’t inspire cooperation.
When I’m just hanging out and feeling patient, my body language is consistent with a different message to drivers: “Your time is important. I’ll just wait here till you’re done driving past. No worries, take your time.”
And that inspires selfless behavior.
But if this is true, what can one do about it?
Body language reflects how we feel, and we can’t choose our feelings.
Does it work if we pretend we don’t care how soon we can cross the street?
No, I don’t think so. (But if you find out differently, please let me know.)
Body language seems more complex than crossed arms or a tapping foot.
It’s likely that for most of us, the telling-est cues are the ones we’re not even aware of. And those are pulled by strings of emotion — again, not within our control.
What if, no matter how we behave on the outside, we can really only get what we want when we aren’t desperate for it?
What if this paradox is an essential part of the human experience?
There are many examples where this appears true…
From respect to attention to money to quiet neighbors, those things we reallyreallyreally want often elude us.
By the time we get them, if we ever do, we’ve usually moved on from wanting them that badly.
It’s not a very satisfying explanation simply to say that life is paradoxical. If that’s true, why is it true?
Maybe we’re not supposed to “push the river” by trying to make things that don’t seem to want to happen, happen.
We’re a goal-setting species…
How are we supposed to set and accomplish goals without doing a little pushing?
Hm. How about you tackle that one in the Comments section below?
All this thinking has made my noggin sore. I’m going to go lie down now.
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