When Humility Smashes Your Judgment (Sometimes Via a Car Accident)


I got in a car accident last weekend.  I’m fine, the other driver is fine.  My car needs some minor-yet-expensive work.  The other car does, too.  But the accident was completely my fault.  It was so clearly my fault that my insurance didn’t even try to get the other party to pay anything.  A split-second, completely preventable oversight, and I ran into the car in front of me.  Oh, and did I mention that it was a high school student that I ran into?  When I spoke to his father earlier this week, the dad asked me if I was ok.  I ran into his teenage son, and he asked me how I was doing.  The experience was a combination of humiliating and humbling.

It’s not the first time I’ve caused an accident, and it probably won’t be the last.  Thankfully, none of them have been serious (relatively speaking).  But these accidents are pretty straightforward evidence that I am not perfect.  I make mistakes, some of them pretty costly to other people (not to mention to me).  I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes I need that reminder.

One of my first accidents happened soon after I started driving.  This accident wasn’t my fault.  I think I only had my learner’s permit at the time.  Either way, my mom was in the passenger seat.  I was stopped, waiting on a two-lane road to turn left onto another two-lane road.  Another teenage driver came along, didn’t see us in time, and slammed into the back of us.  I don’t remember much about it, but I remember the other girl was very upset.  I also remember getting the impression–that night and through the communication that followed–that the girl’s family was struggling financially.

There was enough damage that the police were involved.  If my mother and I showed up at the courthouse on the appointed date, then charges would be pressed.  If we didn’t show up, the charges would be dropped.  I remember my mom asking me what I thought we should do.  My response was automatic: “We should go.  She was wrong and she deserves a consequence.  She needs to be reprimanded so she will be more careful.”

It didn’t cross my mind that maybe she had already suffered enough.  It didn’t cross my mind that we call them “accidents” for a reason.  It didn’t cross my mind that it wasn’t the safest intersection to begin with.  (That intersection now has a turn lane and a stoplight).  Those compassionate thoughts never crossed my mind because not only did I not even try to imagine myself in her situation, I would not have been able to imagine rule-following spotless-record me making a mistake such as hers.

Thankfully, the judge in the juvenile court was more merciful than me, and he dismissed most of the charges against the other young driver.  It is with chagrin I admit I probably was not happy with that result at the time.  Although I never would have been able to recognize it then, I truly believed I was better (“more good”) than others.  Because I was better than them, I was in a place I could judge.

I no longer have such illusions of my own self-righteousness.  Actually… I’m lying.  I have plenty of these illusions.  I’m constantly judging others as though I know someone else’s situation and/or am “good enough” to judge it.  I just hope I have less of these illusions than I used to.  Or maybe my illusions are less damaging?  God help me.

Related Posts: Can’t Relate? Use Your Imagination; Careful, Your Limited Perspective is Showing; We Are All Unreliable Narrators

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