Public Transit Rage & Intentionality

Public Transit Rage & Intentionality

I could write a whole post about public transit frustrations. Delays. Breakdowns. Track violations. Buses so full they don’t bother to stop. Buses that come way earlier or later than scheduled. Buses that don’t come at all. People shouting into their cellphones. Strangers starting conversations with you. People taking the aisle seat on a packed bus and putting their bags on the window seat. People not offering seats to the elderly, disabled or obviously pregnant. People refusing to remove giant backpacks. And, perhaps worst of all, anonymous flatulence.

Public transit: simultaneously a lifesaver and a giant, never-ending, smelly headache.

How can something normally so helpful become such a nightmare when the slightest thing goes wrong? I don’t know about you, but out here in Vancouver, we have a pretty good—albeit fragile—system of public transit. While the system is far from perfect, it’s actually pretty easy to get around most parts of the Lower Mainland without a car.

So, transit works pretty well, except for, well… when it doesn’t. I’ve been let down enough by transit to be able to reliably predict my thought process and emotional response.

Stage 1: Anger at the world. How could this happen to me? To ME! Don’t they know how important it is that I get to work on time? This always happens to me! Why, world… why do you hate me so?

Stage 2: Anger at myself. I should have known things would be screwed up. Why didn’t I go to bed earlier, so I could get up earlier, so I could leave the house on time? Why didn’t I check to see if there were any delays as soon as I got up? If I’d taken that other route, I’d be halfway there by now, not standing at this stop like an idiot. Stupid self!

Stage 3: False hope. Okay—finally moving! Maybe I can get there on time after all! Maybe this train will go extra fast to make up for lost time! I can make it there in 15 minutes, right?

Stage 4: Cognitive dissonance. Crap. I’m not going to make it. I hate being late. Yet here I am, late. Being late means you don’t care about your job, right? I care about my job, but I’m also late. This feeling sucks—curse you, Leon Festinger!

Stage 5: Resignation/acceptance. Oh well. Happens to everyone, right? There’s nothing I can do about it now. Come to think of it, this doesn’t really happen very often at all—I just vividly remember all the times that it has. So, given that I’m late, what can I do? Turns out I do care about my job, so I’ll stay an extra 10 minutes at the end of the day to make up for it. Take that, cognitive dissonance!

People talk a lot about intentionality, like it has some kind of magical power. They quote pseudo-scientists who use an incredibly narrow view of quantum theory to support “the power of positive thinking” and other such fluff. Intentionality, misunderstood though it may be, is a very simple concept. It’s no more and no less than being purposeful with your frame of mind. Most people are not very inwardly intentional, so small changes here can often have large effects.

Life, like public transit, is full of frustrations. All you have to do is look around, and you’ll find something to shake your head at. Or you can choose to forget about the things you can’t control, look at the world around you objectively, and focus on moving forward. This latter frame of mind is an intentional one. The choice, as the existentialists say, is always yours. It just might take a minute to realize that the choice is there in the first place.

There’s an old Cherokee story that gets to the heart of the issue here, of which I’ll provide the abridged version. A chief tells his grandson a story about two wolves. The wolves, he says, exist inside of everyone. One wolf is evil, darkness, hatred and malice. The other wolf is goodness, light, forgiveness and hope. They are locked in battle, with neither gaining any advantage over the other. When the grandson asks the chief which wolf will win, the chief replies matter-of-factly: “The one you feed.”

So the next time you’re sinking into a fit of public transit (or otherwise) related rage, ask yourself, which wolf am I feeding? What choice am I making here?

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