I was trying to get a good deal on my auto insurance a few weeks ago. It was incredibly frustrating!
I know everybody who drives goes through this process, but most people don’t have the problem I had. No matter who I spoke to, I kept running up against the same issue.
The fact that I’ve been driving for decades didn’t matter. Because I was driving in another country—and on the “wrong” side of the road—my experience didn’t matter. I only get credit for three years, the amount of time we have been living and driving in the US. Apparently if I had been born in Germany or France or any other country that drives on the right side of the road, then I would have had a better chance of getting credit for thirty years of driving.
I said I’d driven on mainland Europe many times. On vacation. On business trips. To see family. To buy cheap French wine. I’ve even driven a double-decker bus.
Nope. No credit.
I tried to convince people I was a great driver. (I left out the bit about how Andrea has to keep a constant eye on me because I fiddle with the radio or look out the window or listen to what the girls are saying in the back of the car.)
Nothing. Both my history and my context was denied. The computer says No! I listen to the constant debate in this country about lives that matter. Three words, Black Lives Matter, can stir up such dissension. My experience of having my history and context count for nothing makes me think about all the people who have their racial history and context dismissed. Whatever their experience, they haven’t been driving on the right side of the road.
I’ve gotten past the fact that I have to shell out for the rates of an inexperienced teenage driver, but I still feel indignant about somebody not recognizing what I bring to the steering wheel. Thirty years!
In the debate about whose lives matter, we do the same thing as the insurance agents. It’s too easy to dismiss history and context because we’ve already decided it’s not relevant.
Obviously, everybody matters.
But in the discourse around Black Lives Matter, we miss the history and context of a century ago or thirty years ago or last week in neighborhoods across America. Every day, we too easily dismiss the stories and journeys and experiences of people who are different in some way that we are. As far as we’re concerned, everybody else has been driving on the wrong side of the road.
Well, maybe I have been driving on the left for most of my life. I don’t have the identical experience as someone else. But I do have a capacity for empathy, and I like to think everyone around me does as well.
The joy, the excitement, the connection we can feel through empathy is astounding.
I don’t claim to be a paragon of virtue. I certainly have my non-empathetic moments. But on issues as big as whose lives matter, we ought to be empathetic. In doing so, we will free ourselves from comparisons of anger and rage and the need to out-shout each other.
Ultimately we’ll all drive on the same side of the street—or better yet, right down the center of a street named Empathy.