I believe the phrase ‘first world problems‘ is used to describe relatively trivial matters which annoy us.
An example might be getting stuck in traffic, a problem which is quite acute near my son’s school.
The roads network around the building is inadequate to cope with the volume of cars which gather at pick-up and drop-off times. This can lead to temporary gridlock and potentially delay a planned arrival at work or for a meeting.
Viewed through the spectrum of the daily pressure many of us put on ourselves to be at certain places at certain times, just such a little crunch can be magnified into a significant irritant.
Personally I always try to park some distance from the school. This serves the dual purpose of keeping me away from the very worst of the traffic and getting my son into a habit of taking some exercise before his lessons begin.
A dogged drizzle fell as I walked my son through the school gates this morning. I cuddled him to say goodbye and then stood, as I always do, at the edge of the playground watching until he disappeared around the corner.
Then I began to stroll back towards my car. I was relaxed as I had no work duties or other commitments to distract or divert today. As I turned the corner from the school gates onto the main road I noticed that the familiar snarl-up of traffic had begun.
And then I saw this happen.
A car which was turning from the road into the school yard paused to allow a group of children and adults to cross in front. There was a very young girl in this group and it took her mother just a few seconds longer to guide the child across the road.
This led to the car having to wait. As did the car behind it. And the one behind that, which was a black Porsche.
As I dandered along the pavement I was rudely ripped from my early morning daydreams by a loud and angry blast of a car horn.
The noise had been caused by the driver of the black Porsche, which was now just a few feet from where I was standing.
So I paused and watched for a moment. I watched the driver, a respectably dressed middle aged man, repeatedly shake his head and wave his arm before sounding another loud blast of his horn.
Then, as the bottleneck began to thin and he was able to move forward, he sounded one last long blast of the horn as he passed the school gates. Presumably a final defiant gesture of frustration at being delayed.
I would guess that the whole episode passed in little more than a minute.
It is impossible to know exactly what were the motivations of the Porsche driver. Perhaps he was late for the most important meeting of his life or was on his way to a medical emergency. Possibly his ability to be somewhere at a certain time may lead to some unknown factor which would greatly enhance his life or others. Maybe.
Equally there is no way of knowing, from my imperfect vantage point, what he could see ahead of him on that road. He may have been unaware of the little girl crossing the road. To my eye it seemed that he was directing his anger at the driver two in front and his/her decision to stop to allow people to pass in front of the line of cars.
It’s probably fair to guess that at that moment the driver of the black Porsche believed he was utterly justified in his actions. We’re all human and we all think we’re right all the time. It’s one of our biggest weaknesses.
I, as an observer, was naturally annoyed at what seemed to be an ugly demonstration of vulgar and aggressive behaviour. I told my wife when I got home and we both shook our heads in exasperation.
And then I thought about it some more.
And I began to think about how many times I’ve got angry at being stuck in traffic. How I perhaps never took the time to consider that there may be a good reason why I’m being delayed for a few minutes.
I thought about how many times I’ve allowed the pressures of work to make me act in a way which was not fair to others. About how many times I’ve allowed the demands of time and place to change my personality for the worse.
I thought about how many times I may have snapped at my wife or son because some small particular thing had not gone the way that I wanted.
I thought about the unending capacity of our own minds to make us forget what is really important and to become fixated on the trivial.
And then I thought about what other people would think if they could stop to watch me in just such a moment, just like I stopped to watch the man in the black Porsche. About how my unshakeable conviction that I was right would be countered by others shaking their heads in exasperation.
None of which, of course, means that I’ll be one bit better in the future. I’ll still be impatient, grumpy, unreasonable, cranky and unfair. And I’ll always be certain I’m right.
But maybe, just maybe, the next time I get into a mood I’ll pause to ask myself a question. If I could stop and watch myself, just like I stopped and watched the man in the black Porsche, how impressed would I be?