There’s an inside track at a local university and when the weather turns cold or slippery, I go there to run. It’s a boring, yet peaceful eighth mile loop and I go round and round it until my time is done, listening to my music and never worrying about traffic or which direction to turn. I like it there.
Last night I was looping around all by myself (bliss!), when a girl dressed in purple came charging toward me in my lane. She was going the wrong way. And I know this because there is a pretty clear sign at the entrance to the track that tells you the direction for the day: clockwise on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, counterclockwise on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I believe the alternate-day running directions help preserve the track and guard against uneven wear. Anyway, on this particular evening, I was going the right way. She was going the wrong way, and it was dangerous. The turns are quick, after all, and you can’t see around them until you’re right there.
I decided to shift my lane and hope she caught a glimpse of the sign on one of her loops around. Or maybe she’d choose safety and change her direction to run the same as mine. But, no. She continued looping around, making eye contact with me, and each time I looped, I double- and triple-checked the sign. I was right, and I said nothing. I didn’t want to be a pain and I didn’t want the confrontation.
Later, a couple of guys joined us on the track, neglected to see the sign, and started running in her direction. Now, the simplest thing in the world would be for me to switch directions, I know, but then what to do in the case of a new runner who did read the sign? This happened. Within a few minutes, there were six of us; three running one way and three running the other, and it was chaos. It’s crazy when people don’t read the signs. The three counterclockwise runners probably thought they were right and we were wrong. Likely the three of us “sign-readers” had the same thought. All of us, too polite to say anything, yet certain of our high-road positions. All of us, in some kind of jeopardy of a crash.
On any given issue in our church, country, and world, there are people circling around each other like we were on that track. Some are right, some are wrong, but everyone is utterly convinced, and everyone is running. And we’re crashing, too, all the time, and you’d think it would be a good opportunity to seek and take in more information than the default settings of our brains. If we did, we might all start moving in the same direction and getting something done. Instead we fight each other, crashing and near-missing, every day. Circling round and round.
Sometimes it seems we’re so divided that what we most need to do is stop. Imagine that. Stop running wherever we are on the track and start asking questions, like, “Hey, why did you decide to run clockwise today?” and then listening for the answer. Or a question in combination with a statement of fact, like: “Hello, we’re sharing the same, small, three-lane track. How can we keep each other safe here today?”
When I was a kid, it felt like everyone was operating from the same signs. That probably wasn’t true, but it felt that way to me then. Now there’s no limit to the amount of signs, and everyone gets their information from whatever sign they like instead of the one on the door. No one’s on the same page, and it’s scary and dangerous as we make our way. I don’t have an answer for this problem, but I do try to keep checking the sign on the post every time I loop around. After all, everyone makes mistakes and I’ve made plenty. We all have to check in from time to time. But I’m just one person. What else can I do?