The drive home from my gym every day requires me to take a left turn from a main thoroughfare (Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael) to a residential street that leads to my house. In making that turn, I am often waiting for on-coming traffic (moving from west to east) to pass. Those cars often whip around the bend in the road at that point at speeds well in excess of the posted forty miles per hour limit.
Usually, I pay the cars that dart by to my left no mind, waiting instead for a break in the traffic to make my turn from the turning lane where I station my car. The turn itself is not an issue; it’s a basic Driver’s Ed left turn.
But every now and then, as I wait for the moment when all is clear, I contemplate the admittedly remote possibility that one of those oncoming speedy vehicles will lose control or otherwise veer into my turning lane. It isn’t a completely irrational concern. Serious accidents do occur at that point, more often due to the risk undertaken in turning left onto Fair Oaks as opposed to turning off of Fair Oaks (if you get the picture).
I could avoid this risk of a life-threatening collision by taking a more circuitous route to get home from my gym, but I don’t, because . . . well let’s see, why don’t I take that more circuitous route? It would take me an extra minute or two to get home, so that can’t really be the reason. It’s probably because the odds of one of the on-coming cars veering into my lane are low, not infinitesimally low, but low enough that I accept the risk.
In the end, I’m trusting my fellow drivers to be reasonable, to be appropriately cautious when they whip around a bend in the road just a tenth of a mile from my intersection and to be appropriately attentive to the possibility that a car might be waiting to turn into their path. And, of course, my trust is buttressed by the fact that any driver who isn’t appropriately cautious and attentive risks serious injury to him or herself as well as to me if he or she should veer into my turn lane.
But still I wonder about the calculus of my decision to take on the risk. Accidents, after all, do happen, and, as is also axiomatic in Driver’s Ed, defensive driving is the best antidote to being a victim of those accidents. So, maybe I should take that more circuitous route on my drive home from the gym. Maybe I should just take more responsibility for my own fate and leave less to chance.
And yet, I won’t, because, despite my recognition that those accidents that do happen are most often caused by drivers who are less than appropriately cautious and attentive, I trust that most drivers are and that their personal safety amps up their level of caution and attentiveness just enough to work the calculus in favor of risking the accident to save the two minutes.
If all of this relatively trivial contemplation sounds odd, consider how often all of us engage in the same innate reasoning. Much of human activity is based on the trust we have in each other. We trust our doctors to use their professional training and expertise correctly in diagnosing a symptom. We trust police officers to use discretion in the exercise of their duties and in the use of force. We trust airline pilots to stay alert to all kinds of potential dangers in flying the planes we board. We trust teachers to promote good standards of conduct and strong work ethics in our children. We trust the cashier to accurately punch in the code for the items we purchase at our local super market. We trust the mechanic to keep our car in working order.
And on and on it goes. In almost all forms of human interaction, we rely on each other in a kind of implicit social compact to do the right thing, to refrain from doing the wrong thing, to be, in essence, responsible.
We so rely and place our trust in spite of the undeniable fact of the human condition, which is that we are very much imperfect beings, fully susceptible of the kind of conduct that puts all of us at risk, all the time, of the “accidents” that will, inevitably, happen.
And, of course, if we expand our view beyond the accidents that the human condition inevitably creates, we confront the less forgivable, but still prevalent, aspects of our species condition that flow from our innate selfishness. We can be mendacious and even downright evil, either because we lapse into irrationality or because we are inculcated at an early age with a lack of moral bearing.
Thus, we can lie, cheat and steal with minimal restraint, save for the laws and regulations that our society imposes on us. Temptations abound in our daily lives, and rationalizations are readily available. When the store clerk mistakenly gives me a ten dollar bill instead of a single for my change, do I return it or keep it? Will anyone know if I keep it? Doesn’t it make up for the many times when I get short-changed?
Such thoughts are also part of the human condition. Thus did Adam bite of the apple; so did Eden sink to grief.
I’m not sure where all of this takes me. I’m certainly not seeking to decry everything that makes us humans what we are. We are also capable of kindness, charity and empathy; and the ability to love selflessly is what, in large part, makes life worth living.
We’re a mixture of capabilities and tendencies that have been consistent throughout the millennia of our existence. In the end, we have survived and progressed because, ultimately and finally, our trust in each other has been well-founded.
Which is why, despite the ever-present anxiety that comes from thinking too hard, I’ll continue to take the risk on that left turn to get home from my gym.