In the past couple of weeks I have been overly annoyed by pedestrians. In a variety of specific incidences, a slow moving, carefree pedestrian has delayed my ability, along with many other cars, to make a turn. My annoyance has been mainly in areas where there is not a turn arrow and lights tend to be short. In the absences of a pedestrian, six cars can make a left turn from Florida Avenue onto University Boulevard. In one recent incident, only two cars made the turn; I was in the third car.
My road rage rant went something like this:“Yes, you have the right of way, but please don’t be an oblivious jerk. The world is bigger than you and your need to cross the street. Wake up and pay attention to the world around you. If you understood the needs of others and were a little more intentional in your trek, you would not abuse your lawful authority. You would clean up your lazy dawdling and march across the street with some urgency so as not to cause others any inconvenience.”
Yes, I have a little energy in this area, but it is not limited to crosswalks. Recently, I was at a youth retreat and there was an adult who was in charge of the cafeteria. At each meal this adult would determine criteria for dismissing the tables, and in the midst of the food line forming, he would expand his authority to move people to the back of the line for bad behavior.
In principle, there was nothing wrong with this. What upset me was what I saw as an abuse of authority. He was picking on certain kids and making others be excessively subordinate. Just because you have governance over something, it doesn’t mean you need to lord it over those who are under your authority. Just because you have the right of way, doesn’t mean you can take all the time in the world to cross the street.
What I perceived in the cafeteria was a man who was leveraging his authority to exert greater control. I don’t know why he needed to do that, or what kind of things are going on in his life, but for whatever reason, this was his area of authority and I was annoyed at how he exercised it; it was an abuse of authority.
All of this is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Jesus points out this reality and tells his followers that they should not use authority in this manner.
“But Jesus summoned them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mt 20:25–28).
Authority is an invitation to greater service, not a means to improperly inflate oneself.
Fortuitously, while feeling steamed up about all this, I had the opportunity to witness my own shortcomings in this area. A few days ago, I was the carefree pedestrian. After reaching the sidewalk I was accosted with the memory of my recent fury and realized, “That jerk pedestrian is me!” Further, in a handful of interactions at work, I realized that when I get upset or in a hurry, I become a little bit of a dictator. I get things done, but I can steamroll right over subordinates, i.e., I am worse than the cafeteria guy.
Conviction and contrition are marvelous tools that God uses to bring us where we need to be. I really need to listen to my own road rage rant, toned down of course. We all need to hear this message:
When I have been given legitimate authority, I need to exercise it with charity. The world is bigger than me and my desires. I need to pay more attention to the world around me and be a contributor to the common good. I need to be intentional in my actions and avoid unnecessarily inconveniencing others.
I promise to jog across the street from now on.
This column was originally published July 7 on Father Dollins’ blog “Ad Vitam Aeternam,” Latin for “toward eternal life.” Father Dollins serves as vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Archdiocese of Denver.