Social skills from my GPS

My GPS is teaching me social skills. We call our Garmin “Carmen” and adore her. When following directions from Carmen, I invariably miss turns. Carmen, unlike many backseat drivers, simply says, “Recalculating” and doesn’t call me a schmuck or an asshole. Although I cringe waiting for a reprimand, Carmen is nonjudgmental. The GPS doesn’t evaluate, she just addresses the problem of getting from point A to B.

The first insight I learned is that all of us are fallible. We make mistakes and that doesn’t make us bad people. I don’t miss turns because I want to. I miss because I am a fallible human being. Carmen accepts me for who I am and never gets annoyed. I compare that with a recent event when I inadvertently cut someone off on the LIE. My vision was blocked and the mirror had a blind spot. Clearly, it is my responsibility to check traffic and I was wrong. The young man I cut off, unlike Carmen, let off a barrage of vituperation and gave me an emphatic middle finger.

On another occasion, aided by the GPS, I remained quite calm when delayed by a car ahead while on my way to an important appointment. The driver was very slow, apparently lost and looking for an address. As his head craned looking at numbers, at first I was egocentrically thinking I would be late and it would be this jerk’s fault. Then I realized he would prefer to know where he was going rather than to have no choice but drive slowly. Also, he provided me with an opportunity to practice my skill of remaining calm.

People around us make mistakes all the time, as we do. Vito, a patient with anger control problems, was furious when the taxi driver taking him to an important hospital appointment waited for him at the wrong address, making Vito late. They had a confrontation and he called the driver a moron. The taxi driver goofed, as humans do and almost certainly was also frustrated when no one responded at the wrong address. Instead of Vito getting angry, he, like Carmen, should have taken a problem solving approach and calmly called the dispatcher.

On the other hand, let’s say Vito was right and the driver was a moron. The driver did not choose to be limited. We should accept that people differ in abilities and not condemn them. In fact, I came out of the army with respect for the many GIs who were better than I at any number of things. Perhaps they called me a moron.

The second thing that I learned was not to be unnecessarily sensitive. Carmen is not perfect either. More than once Carmen took a longer route or missed turns or was confusing. I admit I wasn’t polite to her every time. Yet, Carmen never took my insults personally. The fact that I was intemperate was my problem and Carmen did not make it hers. She did not cringe, fight back or hold a grudge. She tried to get me to my destination to the best of her abilities. We can learn from Carmen to indict ourselves for making mistakes. Once we accept that we’re imperfect we become less self-indicting.

Carmen is a very good, but not perfect, problem solver. Give her a destination and she calculates and guides undisturbed by the mistakes of us humans. Carmen, keep teaching me social skills!