By Troy Headrick
I had been thinking for several days about the possibility of writing something about automobiles and driving and the impact these things have on our mental health and happiness, and then I saw that Betul Erbasi had published this piece on slowing down. As someone who writes regularly for Pointless Overthinking, I have noticed a certain interesting synchronicity. Another writer will address an issue I’m currently interested in thus prompting me to think further about the topic and write with even greater vigor once I put pen to paper. I suppose this suggests there’s something akin to a collective consciousness that develops and manifests itself among a group of writers who are working collaboratively.
I want to begin with a brief backstory. I am an American who lived, for nearly two decades, outside my home country and have now returned to the place I was born. During my expatriation phase, I did not own a car. Today, though, because I live in the land of the automobile, I own two of these expensive machines. Since I have resided both with and without automobiles, I feel that I’ve developed some insight into how these wheeled contraptions negatively affect our overall well-being.
Also, to prepare to write this piece, I read Henry David Thoreau’s “Walking,” a seminal essay on how using our legs connects us to nature. Thoreau was a prolific walker and believed that the way we get around greatly affects our physical and mental health. I recommend that everyone read Thoreau’s wonderful piece.
The analysis which follows rests on the assumption that our bodies and minds are connected, and that the way we use our bodies affects the way our minds think.
When humans drive, their bodies, enveloped in a metal skin, race through time and space at a high rate of speed. This racing literally affects their ability to observe, take note, and process information. Thoreau would say that humans were never meant to move faster than their feet could carry them. Thinking about my own experience, when I lived without a car and walked everywhere, I saw more, was able to both connect with my surroundings and appreciate their beauty, and felt more peaceful and happy. (It goes without saying that I was also in the best shape of my life.) Moving slowly has a calming effect and also promotes concentration as the eyes and other senses have the opportunity to take note and focus.
Drivers, on the other hand, race past things and thus have no opportunity to see, take note, appreciate, or ponder. There is this strange thing that happens to the mind belonging to a racing body: The mind begins to imitate the body and starts racing too. We intuitively understand that moving past things at breakneck speed is unnatural and are prone to feelings of anxiety and anger as a result. Road rage is one way this anger manifests itself. Have you ever heard of a situation where a stroller became enraged while in the act of strolling due to the way another stroller, in his or her immediate vicinity, was moving?
Driving makes people frenetic and impatient. It seems that having the ability to move fast makes us hungry for even more speed. And the faster we go, the more we feel endangered and out of control.
So, what can be done? Well, for one, we need to park our cars and look for opportunities to walk. We need to realize that faster is certainly not always better. Faster equates with quantity while slower equates with quality.
What do you think about the argument I’ve made here? Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear from you.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art.