Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Philosophical/Psychological Self-Examination Caused by a Detour on the Bus

On my Facebook profile I have an application that allows people to annoymously submit words which they think describe me. The more times a word is voted for, the bigger it is. Feel free to check it out and add words if you haven't already. In any case, the most voted for words that are supposed to describe me are enthusiastic, kind, creative, silly, and spiritual, followed closely by things like loyal, genuine, thoughtful, present, etc. I find this too extremely interesting because psychologically in our society, individuals use the perceptions of what other think of them as the main building blocks of self-identification (see Yoga and the Search for the True Self by Stephan Cope for more on this;I like to state my sources). Therefore this application both describes and defines at the same time for some people. Luckily I have always resisted basing my identity only on what others think. All that being said, knowing how others perceive you is fun and flattering but at times can be hard to swallow (if people are honest). This is all leading up to one word that was posted on my "Define Me" application. High-strung.

High-strung is something I used to think of myself as but haven't really for a long time. When it popped up it was hard for me to understand why it was there. Today I came to understand why I can't agree with it because of a situation on a CTA bus that unnerved me a great deal. I'll explain what happened first.

Every day when I go to work, I take one of the Express CTA buses that hops on Lake Shore Drive to make the trip downtown a lot faster and efficient for commuters. These buses are not always reliable but if you just have a little patience and give yourself time in case they are late, there is no problem. On my way home, I do the same thing. Downtown all 5 buses (4 of which are express) I can take home stop at the same stops so I usually just hop on the first express bus that shows up. Two of these buses gets off LSD (yeah, I know it is funny initials but we all use them here in print) about a mile and a half south of where I live. The other two get off a few blocks from where I live. Of course I'd rather get on one that waits to get off the express part later so I get home earlier but really, what does the 10minutes really mean in the course of the day?

Today I was lucky, I thought, because my favorite express bus that lets me off a block from my apartment and runs express almost all the way there came first. I got on, actually had a seat, put on my phones to listen to music, and opened my book to read, the best way to pass the bus time. As we approached Delaware, the last stop downtown before getting on LSD, the bus apparently started to go as if it was going to go on surface streets instead. A few people yelled out complaints and "explained" to the driver that this was an express bus and the express bus gets on Lake Shore Drive at Delaware. I ignored it because as far as I'm concerned, it is my time to catch up on my fiction reading and listen to music for a change. The bus did get on LSD but then things got interesting. I was sitting in the seat right behind the driver's box so I noticed that the man standing up near the front was talking to the bus driver about how this bus was a 148 not a 145 (meaning it waits to get of LSD at a later exit than the 145). Apparently the bus driver was disagreeing and was going to get off at the exit that is about a mile and a half from my apartment. Well people started getting generally upset and worried because the 145 afternoon route stops way before the 148 end point. The front of the bus clearly said 148. The bus driver kept quietly insisting that she was going to get off at the earlier exit, which she did. At this point, people started yelling "Get back on the Drive! You're not supposed to get off here! This is a 148! It's an Express!" The bus driver said something about not taking the express route which was strange since there is no such route as far as we knew and she did not get back on the Drive, despite the 50+ people yelling directions at her. This was a full bus.

So what am I doing this whole time? I was sitting in my seat, happily trying to shut out the yelling people and read my book. Then it got to be too much. The yelling had stopped since it was obvious the driver was not going to get back on LSD. She had also assured everyone that she was in fact going to the end point of the 148 route and thus driving that route with the one exception of which exit she used. Now people were just grumbling not very quietly. I finally took my earphones out and said politely "Maybe there is a reason we don't know about that she is not getting off at [the later stop]. She's going to the same place as the 148 on the same route so maybe there is something we don't know. Everyone is going to get home. It's not really going to take that much longer just because we got off a little early." I was very calm about it and just wanted people to not be so upset! I could almost feel how high people had let their blood pressure get and the negative energy was overwhelming. I thought maybe some of them would think "she's right and I'm not going to waste any more energy on something I can't control." I was also confused as to why these people didn't just get off the bus if they had such a problem with the driver. However, all I got was some angry looks and comments like "well she didn't want to even get on Lake Shore Drive to begin with! No one is getting off until the normal stop so why don't we just get back on the drive! etc etc etc" I said my last word which was "well, I just wanted to point out that maybe she has been told something or knows something we don't. We're going to get home which is the important part." After that I went back to tuning it all out and trying to read my book.

Not long after, only about 5 minutes delayed by the "detour," I got off at my stop a block away from my apartment. I said a very loud "Thank you" to the bus driver with a smile, like I always do, and got off. She looked appreciative that I had smiled and I just felt so bad for her! I don't know what was behind this weird route but I emphathised with the driver and almost felt like crying for her sake. It also must have been even scarier for her since the bus riders were almsot becoming an angry mob! As I walked home I contemplated my reaction and wondered why I hadn't been upset. Four or five years ago, maybe I would have been.

Maybe it was just because I wasn't in a rush to get home and didn't mind be a few minutes late. Maybe it was that I just didn't care enough. However, I think it is a sign that I am a much more flexible, accepting person than I used to be. Whoever wrote "present" on my Define Me application must have noticed that I tend to be more like this lately. I was in the moment, experiencing the moment, but also aware that it was just one moment that would not negatively affect the whole universe or probably even most of the individual universes of the people on the bus. In fact, I'm feeling pretty "laid back," which is something no one to my knowledge has ever used to describe me.

So how does this all relate back to "high strung"? For some reason the Define Me words popped into my head while I was walking home and I wondered, as usual, why someone sees me as high-strung. It is not a positive word but not meant to be cruel either. Well, as I was writing the first part of this post, I realized what it is: when other people "define you" they are only interpreting the actions and words they observe you using. They do not see the motivation. Often times it does not matter because things like "enthusiastic" are just that - it's pretty easy to tell when someone is enthusiastic about something. Things like "creative" are a judgement on things you have seen a person produce or heard them say. "High-strung" on the other hand is how you interpret a person's reaction to an event. That reaction can be motivated by so many underlying things that it becomes a lot tougher to get right without really knowing what the person is feeling. I wear my heart on my sleeve which means I cry pretty easily. At times I can get really frustrated by things and vent angrily. I can also get pretty passionate about things and go on diatribes about them which some people don't understand or can't see the motivation. All these things can be interpreted as "high-strung" In fact, I could be interpreting "high-strung" wrong too! I'll never know but I do know that by the way I define it, I would not use it or let it define me.

A better name for the facebook application would be "Describe me" because I personally don't let anyone "define me." I just let it go in this case because, well, I'm pretty laidback about it and still enjoy seeing what people see in me. Two of my favorite "Define me" phrases are crochet-ish and best-sister-ever. Only one person has voted for each of these yet they really mean more to me than some of the more voted for phrases. I'm pretty sure I know who made the sister comment, since my brother isn't a Facebook person and has another sister anyways (who also has Define Me so it might be bad if one of us was actually described as the "best"). It's fun even so! I'm not going to erase "high-strung" either just because I don't agree with it. It has obviously made me think a lot about myself today. I'm not letting it define me anymore or make me worried because really, what will it matter in the long run?

So just a little blip in the CTA bus driver service caused a lot of thought today. I'm praying for all those other people on the bus today because I don't want anyone to be stressed out about what happened. Would it have been the end of the world if we had been forced to get off early? There are plenty of other buses that go along that route. Most of the people were young professionals who really could walk a bit if needed. So I hope they are all "over it" by now because there are too many important things happening the world to be worried about a 5 minute delay.

I hope you had a nice day too!

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Blogger willowlaughter said...

I love this post :-) Crazy story - well-tied-in to your theme - I bet you made that busdriver's day by being so nice and grateful ;-)

August 7, 2008 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger Zifnab said...

I suspect the "high-strung" may have come from another interpretation of the word, which is related to how people tend to view introverts (those who expend energy when interacting with people, as opposed to those who regain energy doing so) - when placed into a social situation when we don't want to be or are out of energy, it's very easy to just explode (ie, the string snapped, I go to pieces, etc). So it may be that aspect, though I dunno that I'd agree with that label for you, in any case. :)

Oh, and you're the best (youngest) sister ever. And F is the best (oldest) sister ever. Or, maybe you both are the best sisters ever? Or I could just give you both the best sister ever award (it's a button with a smiley face on the front, and "poke me" on the back. Can be worn either side out.) and let it go at that.

August 9, 2008 at 3:17 AM  
Blogger Zifnab said...

Naturally I post and then catch a possibly misinterpretable word choice - when I say "how people tend to view introverts", I mean to say "how extroverted people tend to view introverts", or to be more precise (as many extroverts understand this about introverts), how those who don't think about how people react to social situations, tend to view those who are introverted in such situations.

Oh, and the word I have to type to post this is "qfvhgig". I think that's a verb, describing the action of throwing a salami across a doorstep in the rain. Usage: "I qfvhig'd as I slipped on the banana in the walkway." Actually, that may not be a verb, but I am feeling silly rather than serious, and so will not attempt any pretense at correctness.

August 9, 2008 at 3:21 AM  
Blogger Rebekah said...

I love you. Great post. I also appreciate your desire to be more positive. It's the direction I am also moving in.

August 18, 2008 at 9:18 PM  
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Just in case you were wondering, Grandma loves this post! And of course, so do I :-)

August 25, 2008 at 1:48 AM  
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