Monday, September 23, 2013

Can you do it while distracted?

I'm driving down the road. I need to merge into traffic, but there's no room. I look at the driver of the car next to me and think, "Hey, I've got my signal on. Can't you see I NEED to get in?"

Sometimes, I'll slow my car down, wait for an available space, and glide in. Usually I can do this if I'm feeling calm and relaxed, and nothing is bothering me. Even if I do get mad, I'll take a step back and put myself in his shoes. "Maybe he's in a real hurry", I'll think, "because he's carrying his pregnant-and-in-labor wife to the hospital". That usually works and the anger quickly dissipates.

Then, there are those days (perhaps you've had days like this) where I'm driving along and thinking about a problem at work. Or maybe I'm worried about the kids, or maybe I'm just a little sleepy. Those days I may react by shouting, "Hey, c'mon, what's your problem?!?" and giving the guy a nasty glare.

It's those times when I'm really distracted (by my own problems or whatever) that I'm really NOT having any empathy at all.


If being distracted means that I'm not feeling empathy, then I should just NOT be distracted, right? But sometimes I feel like I'm living in a state of distraction. Follow the New Jersey Turnpike, make the first turn at the Suburb roundabout, have two kids and you'll be there too. I'm giving attention to my kids AND watching a pot on the stove. Or I'm thinking about what I have to do that day AND getting dressed AND watching my kids. I'm multitasking and that's good, right?

From Wikipedia, (Human) Multitaskingis "the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task at the same time. " 

When computers multitask, they are switching processing power between different tasks, multiple times per second. I'm not a computer, and I can't switch between different tasks that fast. So when I feel that I'm 'multitasking', I'm really only doing one thing at a time. I'm watching the pot on the stove, then turning to kiss my kids, then turning back to the stove. Sometimes, I hurt myself because I'm not giving enough attention to the one thing that I should be paying attention to.

Let me extend this thought to people and relationships; if I'm thinking about how fast I need to get to work or how much money I'll need to fix my car, I won't be feeling empathy. 


With my busy life (don't we all have busy lives?) I don't think I'm going to suddenly become any less distracted doing the daily scroll. What I can do, and make efforts to change, is to try to stop multitasking. If I pick only one thing to do at a time, then maybe I can do it with empathy. I can have empathy for the other drivers, for my kids, and for myself.

Do you multitask?



SP said...

not any more.... I can barely task.

SL said...

when it comes to driving, the only safe way to drive is without empathy. Signal clearly by actions that you intend to take the space and take it. Don't give the other driver a chance to think, 'she is not moving, I can move.' Empathy leads to attempts at violation of the laws of physics (two objects same place same time).

Janet said...

I agree that it makes sense to drive with intention (which is what you seem to be talking about) and to drive defensively, to be safe. There are times and places to have empathy for the other drivers on the road. The best thing I can hope to do is to use empathy wisely.