Hurry Up and Wait
Yesterday I was driving. It was a two lane road, a typical fairly high speed state highway just out of town. I heard it first, a low rumbling sound like I imagine a bear makes before ripping a hiker to shreds for trying to get a selfie with its cubs. It startled me a little. Before I knew it this huge dark blue pickup truck comes screaming by me (likely using a half gallon of gasoline in the process). It proceeded to pass me and swerved back into our lane. When the ringing in my ears cleared I glanced down at the speedometer while pondering the location of the nearest muffler shop. I was going just about the speed limit, maybe slightly faster.
My former self may have been angry, perhaps interpreting this as an affront to my manliness, but as a happy philosopher I remained calm and just observed. The truck sped in front of me and almost immediately there were brake lights, as it came up against the 10 or 20 cars in front of me going almost the same speed I was. Incidentally my speed never changed. As we drove on for a half mile or so, we slowed to a stop at a red light. Mr. Monster Truck Man was exactly several feet in front of me now, not really in a much better place than he was when he was behind me.
This got me thinking.
How many of us live our lives like this?
Always in a Hurry to be Elsewhere
This used to be me. I was Monster Truck Man (although in an under-powered Honda Civic). I spent considerable resources and emotional energy speeding up my life, trying to get ahead. I was always racing to get somewhere other than where I was. Where I was, was not good enough, even if it was nearly the same.
Now to be fair, Mr. Monster Truck Man could have had a legitimate reason to get to where he was going. Maybe his wife was in labor in the passenger seat (although he was going in the opposite direction from the closest hospital). Maybe some life or death matter needed attention. I can’t know, and I’m not judging him, but I imagine this was just a normal day for him. He was hurrying up to wait. He was not satisfied where he was.
Is this not the root of all human suffering?
The Cost of Hurrying
When I pondered the marginal gains of his limited progress down the road in comparison to me, I made a quick mental tally of the cost of his action.
- Rapid acceleration of two tons of metal and plastic used much more gasoline than he would have by maintaining his speed behind me. He has to work a few more seconds/minutes to pay for this.
- His actions were not riskless (to him or me). Passing people on two lane roads at 50 mph is one of the most dangerous activities we do in our cars. He may have misjudged oncoming traffic and caused himself or another car to run in to me and my daughter who was in the back seat.
- It likely released a bit of stress hormones into his blood stream, which probably is not all that great for the body.
- Wear and tear on his car from rapid acceleration and braking will cost him money down the road (no pun intended), just like the additional fuel.
Many tiny costs, but costs none the less. When I added up all these factors, I figure he actually LOST time from a vague meta actuarial sense; having to work a few more minutes in the future for the gas and maintenance money, the theoretical loss of time due to potential injury or death, the guilt from causing someone else harm in the instance he caused another accident. In other words, in the future world of infinite possibilities he is worse off if we consider all possible outcomes.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
In isolation this one event probably didn’t really affect his life much. It didn’t move the needle. It’s imperceptible. But what happens when we do this all the time, every day, multiple times a day?
One tick bite is annoying.
1000 tick bites and you might need a transfusion.
Instead of hurrying up to wait, just stop every now and then. Slow down to the present moment. Be where you are. You will get to where you need to be soon enough. Sometimes going slower is faster in the long run.