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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The past 18 months have provided many examples of how our personal biases and beliefs inform our responses to the issues, challenges and problems of others.
Of course, many of us already knew others may view our mountains as molehills; the challenges of social unrest, severe economic hardships and a pandemic magnified such differences.
It would be wrong to believe the lesson is to find better ways to measure problems. Instead, we should focus more on listening to others with empathy and without offering unsolicited advice.
Another lesson is that it’s important to look at how our community can benefit from our willingness to endure inconvenience, discomfort or annoyance.
We’re not stereotyped as a nation of sacrificers. In many parts of the world, we’re viewed as people who place our desires and needs above others’. We’ve been lampooned for putting our personal freedoms before the health and safety of the community.
Some believe we have created the greatest civilization in history. Perhaps. One thing I am certain of is that greatness brings everyone along.
Sure, beautiful stories of kindness and resiliency emerged from our nation during the past 18 months. These bolstered us as we slogged through mental and physical difficulties. However, those who are less obvious essential workers --- food servers, clergy, plumbers and more --- tell stories of being undervalued, disrespected and taken for granted.
When I hear that even one pastor spent much of the last year feeling they were “treated like furniture,” it’s a sign we all should strive to become more empathetic.
It certainly caused me to look inward. Most of the time, I did well navigating minor and major challenges during the past 18 months. The times I didn’t were few, but that’s of no comfort.
I’m also bothered by how quickly I find myself lapsing into confrontational thinking. More than before, I find myself reacting before listening fully --- seizing upon a bias and scoffing at different perspectives.
For example, I recently put up a wall of skepticism over a Popular Mechanics headline: “We should abolish the left turn, science suggests.”
My bias kicked into overdrive, and assumptions flooded my mind. I may have even uttered an audible “blah, blah, blah.”
I’m not proud of this, either: I assumed my beloved Popular Mechanics had declined to take the stance of personal responsibility. With a mind opposed to changing my behavior to accommodate distracted, impatient, unqualified drivers, I read all the way through because I wanted to disagree.
The article references research that fewer left turns could dramatically improve traffic and reduce dangerous collisions.
“(A)pproximately 61 percent of all crashes that take place at intersections involve a left-hand turn,” the article notes. “Why? Because left turns take you against traffic and in the path of oncoming cars, and most take place at drivers’ discretion, not during the distressingly brief left hand arrow at busy intersections.”
To be fair, the article also delved into some of the challenges of eliminating left turns, such as the skills required to keep up with the flow of merging traffic in cloverleafs and roundabouts.
My initial response was a slightly angry, “Meh.” Safety goals and improved traffic flow also could be realized, I reasoned, if people view driving as a privilege, pay attention and follow common-sense laws.
And then I heard myself. With an open mind, I could see how my perceived molehill might be a mountain to someone who has lost a loved one in a left-hand turn accident. Or what about that person who’s afraid to ride in a car after surviving such a collision?
Viewed from another perspective, my perception of a small idea, challenge or issue transcends my opinions and needs. Therefore, the small inconvenience of changing some behaviors and doing a few things differently is worth the rewards experienced by the larger community.
Karris Golden is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org