The Wikipedia definition of accident is “an incidental and unplanned event that could have been prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its occurrence.”
Yesterday as I drove home I saw an electronic sign that the highways in Ohio utilize to provide various messages to drivers. During the morning and afternoon commutes it can alert drivers to possible traffic jams by giving them estimated times of arrival depending on which way they travel. When it isn’t used for traffic conditions it often passes along Amber alert messages or other important messages to drivers.
Over the past few weeks it has highlighted a problem on the road today. It explains that traffic fatalities are up significantly for the year. It reminds drivers to be more aware and eliminate distractions.
I love the 5th verse of the Tao Te Ching but it is one that is often difficult to comprehend and put into practice.
“Heaven and earth are impartial,
they see the 10,000 things as straw dogs.
The sage is not sentimental;
He treats all his people as straw dogs.
The sage is like heaven and earth:
To him none are especially dear,
Nor is there anyone he disfavors.
He gives and gives, without condition,
Offering his treasures to everyone.”
When I first read this verse I thought it was incredibly harsh. But as I studied it and tried to see it from a different perspective I realized something. Similar to the definition of “accident” there is a piece that hints at something more concrete.
In the definition of accident it says specifically that an accident “could have been prevented.” It shows the accountability that we tend to disregard in accidents. If a child spills something and says it was an accident the punishment is less severe than if the child did it on purpose. But sometimes we use this as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility.
I don’t find the traffic fatality statistic alarming. Increasing the number of distractions through phones, complex technologies in cars, and numerous priorities in life seem to point to an increase in accidents along with a growing number of drivers on roadways.
But what I find interesting is that so many of us try to shirk responsibility. Lately I have focused on paying more attention to the road and ignoring the distractions around me. It has actually been much more difficult than I imagined! Phone messages constantly buzzing in my pocket, a screaming two year old daughter in the back and GPS on my cell phone pull my attention away from the road.
In the verse above for the Tao Te Ching, it explains that heaven and earth treat everyone as “straw dogs.” In other words, it doesn’t play favorites. Years ago I read a book that detailed a “law of attraction” that existed and seemed to create a loophole for success. It emphasized the power of our thoughts and explained it almost as if we have the ability to wish for things in life to come true.
But this isn’t accurate. Because we are all treated as straw dogs there isn’t a favored group that we just haven’t been able to join. The reality is that we need to start taking 100% responsibility for things in our lives that we have avoided over the years. We can’t create bad habits and systems and then wonder “why me?” when something bad happens.
This means not just evaluating the split second the accident occurs but evaluating the system and habits that we rely on in our everyday lives that lead up to those moments. We have to take responsibility for those things in order to truly grow and improve. It isn’t about judging good or bad it is about constantly finding ways to improve.
Results follow action and behavior. This can be positive results or negative results. If we find ourselves getting more and more distracted we are just waiting for those distractions to happen at the exact wrong time. But if we are prepared and take action towards our goals we will start to grow in the ways we are meant to. Only by examining the underlying systems and habits can we finally start to see the “why” behind the situation.