“Pace and Perspective: Lessons Learned on the Go” by Robyn Kaplan

Spring in Student Affairs… we all have a definition of what that means. Regardless of your role or institution your calendar is more than likely filled with preparations for banquets, transitions, year-end reports, and summer projects. It is an extremely busy time and if you’re anything like me, sometimes the hectic environment does not stay at the office. Let me explain…

Living in Queens, New York, or mini-Manhattan as some like to refer to it, I have a reverse commute into Long Island where I work at Hofstra University. Honestly, the commute is a welcome change to my 5+ years of living on-campus at the previous institutions for which I’ve worked. Albeit, simply walking home at 10pm after a long night was easier than the 45-minute commute home; but it has been a welcomed separation for me. Although enjoyable however, the commute doesn’t come without frustration.

If any of you have ever braved the NYC highways (or any congested city thruway at rush hour), you can imagine how the combination of aggressive drivers and congested traffic can add to the chaotic cloud that develops above us this time of year. I’ve gotten used to the constant stop and go that I experience for about half of my commute, and have begun to laugh at how unlikely my luck has been when my lane speeds up right at the moment where I decide to switch into the lane that appears to be going faster! (This never fails). However, it’s the attitude and aggression of other drivers that brings me anxiety. I wonder is it a New York quality to cut in front of other drivers in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or even worse when you are trying to merge onto a highway? Or is it a New York thing to let it bother you?

While driving to work the other day, I had a car swerve into my lane almost side swiping me. The driver of the car beeped, sped up and cut me off as I was merging onto the Grand Central Parkway at rush hour. Relieved that we were ok, I found myself beeping at the car at which point the man stuck his arm out his window and waved at me, a gesture that infuriated me, assuming that it was some way of disregarding my reaction and telling me to relax. I just shook my head in disbelief at the recklessness of the man driving.

When traffic stopped for a second, the man actually opened his door…

Immediately out of instinct, I locked my doors – with a million ideas flowing through my mind of what he could do. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong with my assumptions. The man got out of his vehicle, put his hand over his heart and mouthed, “I’m so sorry! I’m sorry.” My look of fury immediately turned to remorse as I smiled at the man and found myself nodding in a gesture to imply, “No worries, have a good day.” He then put his hands together in a thankful gesture, and got back in his car and continued on his way.

This stuck with me for the rest of my day… Why do we always jump to the negative? Why do we tend to see the bad and reckless in others before we notice the honesty and remorse for a mistake? We assume that when something happens, it had to be intentional, or they had to be inconsiderate. Think about walking in a crowded place and having someone bump into you without apologizing. The natural response may be a roll of the eyes or a frustrated response, but how often do we put ourselves in that person’s shoes? We teach it to our students all the time. Mediate conflict by first learning where the other person is coming from. Own when you make a mistake. Be the bigger person. However, when we’re beyond the pearly gates of a community of higher learning, and we’re just one of the crowd in a busy city or a congested community, do we practice what we preach or do we automatically assume the worst in people’s intentions?

This man, who could have caused an accident but was big enough to apologize rather than disregard, taught me something that day. He taught me that sometimes, we look for the bad in people because we’re too hurried and frustrated to imagine the good and acknowledge a mistake. What if he had a pregnant wife in the car and he was racing to get to the hospital? I had visions of him getting out of the car to curse me out and scream incessantly at me for beeping at him to the point where I felt the need to lock my doors for safety! When all along this man had intentions of simply ensuring that I knew he was sorry. He didn’t wave out the window to taunt me, but rather to express sympathy to me. Can we not equate this to so much more?

There are opportunities every day to assume the negative and overlook mistakes for mal-intentions. There are also opportunities every day to apologize for honest mistakes, and even be the person willing to offer forgiveness. Mistakes and misunderstandings usually involve more than one person. So do resolutions and closure. We’re all going fast through this time of the year, but when was the last time you slowed down for long enough to look around and wonder about the day someone else was having?

Connect with me: @rkaplan13
Robyn Kaplan, Associate Director for Student Leadership & Activities, Hofstra University.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to ““Pace and Perspective: Lessons Learned on the Go” by Robyn Kaplan

  1. Oh I so love this. Practice positive intentionality every single day.

    • Robyn Kaplan

      Thanks Deb! I love the concept of positive intentionality. It’s easy to jump to conclusions… much harder to control yourself and flip difficult situations on their head. Thanks for reading and responding!

  2. Great post Robyn…yes,,, situations and people are rarely what they seem on the surface…so much more depth. Best to you-T

    • Robyn Kaplan

      Learning positivity, intentionality, and profoundness from some of the best. Thanks for role modeling!

  3. Melissa R.

    I lived and worked in DC for a few years – and felt the same frustrations with traffic and the people around me. “DC hardened me,” was my phrase of choice during that time. Truly though – I probably should have been reflecting on myself. Once I re-prioritized and figured out what I wanted in life – those frustrations started to disipate. I’d be lying if I said I was better prepared for dealing with the traffic challenge today though – what a nightmare! Yikes! Thank you for sharing RK. 🙂

    • Robyn Kaplan

      I don’t think we can every be fully prepared for traffic Melissa, but I agree – it’s a choice to let it affect you vs. letting it role off your shoulders. Life’s too short to be stressed by fleeting situations. Focus on the important and choose your attitude. Thanks so much for reading and responding!

  4. For me, jumping to the negative is my defense mechanisms to protect myself for fear, danger, failure. Maybe its where I was brought up or the people who surrounded me.. this was normal. A guy on the parkway cuts you off, what do you do? Lean on the horn and curse in your car. I used to get so mad when that happened. Until one day I thought to myself , why the heck am I doing this? It’s not doing anything productive. I stopped and opened my life to more positive experiences and life was so much better. Thanks for the reminder Robyn!

    • Robyn Kaplan

      Absolutely! It takes a strong person to be self-aware enough to acknowledge that defense mechanism. But it’s so great that you were able to turn it around. I try to focus on the trees and smile rather than the frantic drivers and scowl 🙂 Makes a big difference. Thanks for reading and responding!

  5. Thanks for this powerful reminder to not always jump to the negative conclusion. Already this morning I have been in tense terse conversations that did not need to be that way and I have to own my contribution to these. Deb said what I try to do each day – practice positive intentionality.

    • Robyn Kaplan

      I couldn’t agree more about our need to own our contribution to the tension that we suffer from every once and a while. Not enough people are willing to do that, and depending on the situation, it can be really hard. That’s why it’s important to step back… and hopefully have someone in our lives that can tell us in a way that resonates, that we’re adding to the problem. Thanks for reading and for your insight Laurie!

  6. Oh so wonderful and timely for me. Thank you for this positive perspective. It’s gotten me out of a funk!

    • Robyn Kaplan

      I’m so glad! Knowing I could have done anything to help get you out of a funk, just made my day 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  7. Great post Robyn! For the record, frustrating traffic and scary driving techniques are not isolated to New York. It’s the same up here, north of the border. I’ve seen some pretty gnarly stuff on the roads in and around Toronto and the surrounding area. My go-to reaction is usually uttering “idiot” or worse (enter your favourite expletive here) at the driver.

    Your story is a reminder to all of us, and is applicable to every situation. Just because someone makes a mistake, does not mean that it was intentional. What a great mantra to repeat when we feel we have been wronged.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s a message I needed to hear.

    p.s. I giggled at this line: “Think about walking in a crowded place and having someone bump into you without apologizing.” This is a pretty foreign concept in Canada. When something like this happens, usually both people apologize. Guess our reputation for being polite is kind of true, though not always on the roads 🙂

    • Robyn Kaplan

      I lived in Australia for about 7 months – there is no question there is a difference in reputation from some parts of the world to others! I felt the difference the minute I landed back in Los Angeles after being abroad for so long. One of the reasons I love to travel! Thanks for reading and for your insight.

  8. I shared this with my RD staff this morning, hoping it will help them through the craziness of hall closing and them remember that the students who are here late aren’t doing it to “them”

    • Robyn Kaplan

      Thanks Beth! I’m honored that I was able to provide insight that you could share with your staff. I wish you all the best of luck and energy in this hectic time! 🙂 Light is at the end of the tunnel!

  9. I love this, Robyn! I grew up in Queens and live in Ohio now, and I’m always wondering what exactly makes NYers rude and negative at times. I love the story about how the man got out of his car and how it reframed your thinking for the day. Assuming positive intent is a great reminder. Thanks for sharing!

    • Robyn Kaplan

      Thanks Jen! I am not a born-New Yorker so I’d like to think I have a bit more patience than stereotypical New Yorkers are believed to have – but I am also grateful for the experience so I could check myself. There hasn’t been a day that I’ve driven by that area that I haven’t thought about the experience and smiled. Thanks for reading!

  10. Sonia McGartland

    It’s so true, we automatically jump to the wrong conclusions. I enjoyed the article. We can all learn from this and try and make this world a better place

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