Driving styles, much like fashion, vary according to person: the girl who wears Prada may also like to text or apply mascara behind the wheel; the man who is keen on loafers may prefer driving slowly in the left lane. With both driving and fashion, others deem it totally normal—acceptable, even—to assess stereotypes upon the driver or fashionite. To be fair, I know plenty of Prada lovers who wouldn't dare text while driving (I also know several who would); likewise, although I don’t know a tremendous amount of people who wear loafers, I do know people who wear sneakers and stilettos who dawdle in the fast lane.
Stereotypes—or narrow-minded assumptions, as I like to call them—may feel true, but judging others results only in our missing out on what's deeper within another person.
This afternoon, my colleagues and I were talking about this subject, swapping stories about how we typecast others while driving. I shared how a boy I dated for about ten minutes (too long) in college would follow any complaint he had with a driver with, “Probably a Korean.” He felt justified in being childish because three of his long-term ex-girlfriends had been Korean.
One of my co-workers admitted that her husband, when he sees a bad driver ahead, sometimes says, “Probably a woman.” She said she cringes every time it is a woman. She followed this with a story of how she, an aggressive driver, once made a blunder and had a man yell out to her: “You’re old enough to know better!” After her initial indignation toward him, she realized that she should have known better. “It gave me pause for thought,” she said.
Come again? Just because my co-worker is visibly middle-aged doesn’t mean she has been driving for the past forty years. Maybe she just moved here from Saudi Arabia. Or, perhaps, she as an assertive driver was behaving aggressively because that’s her nature. I suppose we could go around launching you-should-have-known-betters more often. I’m sure Bill Clinton or Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen would have benefitted greatly from such admonitions.
The first time I rode in a car with Greg, when we were just friends, I was terrified by his haphazard, slow-to-break but fast-to-launch driving (picture the fashion equivalent of a 6-year-old boy in Underoos). In fabulous ironical fate, I told myself that if this guy were ever going to have children, his wife would have to sort out his driving. She did. In retrospect, what I know to be true about my husband is that his driving behavior reflected something deep in his character: passion. It’s the quality about him I admire most.
Our personas can be displayed by driving habits or wardrobe choices, but they aren’t necessarily determined by ethnicity or gender or age. The luxurious freedom of being alive during this moment in history and in this country is our ability to choose Prada slides or Lauren loafers, a mini Cooper or a mini-van. The rest of us ought to recognize this and deal with bad drivers without assessing judgments: pass in the right lane, slow down, politely honk.
After all, aren’t we too cultured, too liberated, and too mature a people to stereotype others?