The Golden Rule of the Road

Recently, the most unexpected thing occurred. During a regular rush hour, I was driving along Canal Road towards Georgetown and discovered I was the only car on the road. It was weird, really strange. Weird in a semi-creepy, Mad Max kind of way because, ordinarily, these roads are choked with traffic. And, no, it wasn’t a holiday. The President’s motorcade wasn’t nearby. I don’t know what it was. All I know is that there I was, the lone car, winding my way towards downtown in the early evening sun.


Where’d everybody go?


Looking back in my rearview mirror and seeing the entire stretch of road empty while, up ahead, I could discern no tail lights made me wonder, momentarily, if I were someplace I shouldn’t be. I felt relieved to pull up to a crowd of cars idling at the red light before crossing Key Bridge, but up until that moment, it was an eerie sensation.


We’ve all had similar experiences. When was the last time you felt you didn’t belong? Did you purposely cross into foreign territory, simply lose your way, or maybe you walked into a room filled with people you knew, but where you still felt out of place? It’s disconcerting, isn’t it? Particularly that last example, which is probably the most common for many re-booters—entering a familiar scenario but feeling like a stranger.


When it comes to feeling out of place, my experience has always been one of significant dichotomy. On one hand, people remark about my sense of confidence and extrovert-like qualities. Public speaking is easy for me. I know how to socialize. I like to laugh. But these attributes are a far cry from the way I experience myself, internally. I’ve never been one of the “cool kids.” Ordinarily, I am not someone who attracts the attention of others. I was never nominated, let alone voted, class president or captain of the team. So my personal sense of belonging is quite different from that which people regularly ascribe to me. I’ve never been part of an in-crowd. What must that be like?


How about you? If you were to describe your direct experience of fitting in versus how your friends or coworkers might describe you, would these perceptions match? And, does your assessment change depending on the context? For instance, are you the odd woman out compared to the cool moms’ group at your children’s school but when with your golf buddies or yoga class you relax into being your ineffable self? Under what circumstances do you flourish most?


Now, think about someone you know who you perceive as being ensconced in their community, someone who appears to be “fully accepted” (whatever that means to you). Try to imagine them feeling vulnerable or out of place—what do you think that looks like for them? The motive behind this little exercise is to return some humanity into those individuals who you have defined as inaccessible. Having done so, it makes it a little easier to feel sympathetic towards them, doesn’t it? It makes it slightly easier to approach this person (standing there in their loneliness), thus easing the transition from strangers to acquaintances for you both.


Empathy is a quality we must call upon on a daily basis. It is the Golden Rule, because no matter how often we may feel like we’re the only car on the road, unsure of where we’re heading, there will be another driver coming along who feels precisely the same way.


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