May 13, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
The Conversational Parking Lot
Forcing Yourself to Stay in the Lines
This week I was looking for a spot in a parking lot and saw something no one likes to see – a vehicle taking more than one spot. Other than parking during a snowstorm where you can’t see the lines, or perhaps driving an unusually large vehicle, it’s difficult to think of a legitimate reason to take more than one space; especially when it is close to the building.
Of course parking lot lines are a somewhat arbitrary guide, but we collectively agree that they have meaning. We do this to ensure order in a place where there would otherwise be chaos, to maximize the number of cars that can be placed in the space available and to keep areas clear for movement.
There was no snow on this particular day but the vehicle was relatively large (although not large enough to need two spaces). To make it worse, the vehicle wasn’t only taking up two spaces, it was taking up four!
The vehicle was a tall red truck with suspension that lifted it higher off the ground than most cars, so I can imagine the person driving it felt like it was too big for one space. In that context taking more than one space seemed almost excusable. Still, I couldn’t help myself but to walk around the vehicle for a moment. And as it turned out, the truck definitely didn’t require more than one space, let alone four!
The parking lot wasn’t completely full and there were open spaces on the next row which weren’t that much farther from the building. Yet somehow it still felt as though the driver had broken some code of ethics.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why does something like this bother us so much? Why are we troubled by someone ignoring these arbitrary lines?
Naturally, if the lot is full and the vehicle is covering potentially open spots, people think those covered spots could be theirs. I have witnessed drivers become infuriated in these situations.
Why is it such a big deal?
I believe we are primarily bothered because that act is narcissistic at its heart. We all tend to be repulsed by people who think they are more important than others; people who act as though their needs or wants should override the needs and wants of others.
Ironically, on some level we all feel this way about our own lives. A feeling that our wants and needs are more important than others. It is part of our survival instinct and we all exhibit it on some level. On the other hand our evolution as a species also includes social evolution which sees equality as a virtue. Perhaps because the advancement of society has always involved some form of collaboration. It is hard-wired into our genetics to be socially cooperative.
Of course this abhorrence to narcissistic attitudes plays itself out in more areas than parking lots. One less obvious place is in conversation. Just like a parking lot we all get a certain allotment of space in a conversation. We want people to respect our space and we don’t want others to take too much space. We especially don’t want people encroaching on space that could be ours.
All of us have been in a conversation where someone is taking two spaces. Just like driving through a full lot and seeing two spots taken by one car, we are annoyed that we can’t find a spot to park. We are put off, we get bored and sometimes we are even repulsed. We often perceive it as an overt sign that the person sees themselves, their thoughts, their experiences as more important than ours.
Every once in a while we find ourselves interacting with that rare person who takes up four spots. We might be polite and survive the experience, but we may never interact with that person again. Unlike a parking lot where the encroachment is obvious to anyone, especially the driver, it is likely that the person in the conversation doesn’t notice that he is taking four spots. At best the person may only notice that people don’t go out of their way to converse with them.
In good conversation each person only takes one spot.
Pay attention to yourself in your daily interactions. When you park yourself in a conversation, how many spots do you take? It’s a good idea to watch closely. No matter how interested another person seems in what you are saying, always avoid taking a parking spot larger than the other person's. In my opinion the best conversationalist always takes the smallest space.
Keep a running tally in your mind, literally time yourself if you have to. Make sure the other person in the conversation has a larger space than yours. If you find yourself occupying more than 50% of the conversation…stop! Ask a question, change the direction of the conversation and make sure you are never the one taking more than one spot.