Left Turn on Red

I was having trouble with my driving this year. For twice, I almost turned left to merge to two-way streets while the traffic signal was still red. Although I realized it right away, it was still very unsafe. The first time it happened, I thought I was just too sleepy to pay attention and it is my fatigue causing it. The second time it happened, I was not that sleepy and tired, but I still began to turn left for 1 second and then pulled to a quick stop. I started to get worried that I may not be able to prevent a third and fourth time in the future. That was when I realized that it was not an accidental mistake. This could be a mistake in my mind. Moreover, I learned driving from my husband. He made the same mistake one night a year ago when we were turning left onto the South Main Street after watching a movie at the Cinebowl. Luckily it was very late and there was no car on the road. It does not sound that unsafe because even if we ignored the signals and behaved as if it was a crossing without any signals, we have checked the feasibility of making a left turn by evaluating the traffic on the other direction. But what if it was turning to a highway with high-speed cars? Afterall, if we made the left turn, it was a hard break of rules. So I am treating it seriously. Obviously, we were not getting it right on how to make a judgment of start or stop at a road crossing. Having the same problem to occur again and again, I started to reflect detailedly on the procedures I follow to make a decision at a crossing. Obviously, I was not distinguishing the judgment to be made at a crossing with traffic lights from that at a crossing without any traffic lights. I was also not associating the safety consequences with the missing of this distinction. I re-wired my mind to remove the steps of evaluating whether a left turn is feasible and to just follow the traffic signals if there is any. Hopefully, the same error will not show up again (with crossed fingers). This is just a mistake of me and my teacher/husband. I hope it does not contribute to the stereotype of Asian drivers. 🙂

I recall in a paper (Alexander 1992) on knowledge and misconceptions, it quotes that “errors are often systematic rather than random”. This is very surprising to me when I first red it. For all my school years, my teachers have been telling me to be more careful so that I can make fewer mistakes in the exams. It might work for some, but I doubt that every mistake can be easily solved by a very abstract direction of being more careful. It sounds like a little problem as you just need to pay a little bit more attention. Yet, “systematic errors” take more efforts. I wonder if I have broken down my mistakes into pieces and rewired them as I did for my driving, I might have better cognitive and learning outcomes (not just exams and grades) in the earlier years of my life.

I know driving is not the topic of this week, but it resonated with me and reminded of the above paper as I red the “hidden mind” article. Both of them emphasize the role of the unconscious mind in controlling our actions and how the mind internalizes invisible impacts from the outside without knowing it. The difference is that the paper is more on knowledge and cognition (dealing with the sources of errors or mistakes due to the lack of information, the lack of association of learning and real-world experience, or a higher level misconception by domain experts), while the “hidden mind” paper is more on social psychology. They both support the same thing, in order to break free from the control of the invisible mind or the existing conception within our mind, we need to dissociate the misconceptions that are harmful to us and to the people around us. I am not saying that the problems we encounter are mistakes or errors. I am not making a judgment of any people. Let me use phrase what we want to fix towards a more inclusive environment as some conception in our mind that we identify to be in conflict with the values you stick to.

If the mind is so tricky, how to identify what conception we want to fix in the mind? Embrace the diversity of information and perspectives with people having different backgrounds. And more importantly, embrace any discomfort and difficulty to facilitate a better environment. I really like the idea of embracing discomfort and difficulty. It is human nature to avoid discomfort whether it is an inclusive issue or a personal issue. The antidote is always to be brave to encounter it and grow in the experiences.

One last thing, I do not have enough confidence in the revised ground rules in a brave space. Other than students learning social justice, who really need to experience the uncomfortable moments to learn it well, I wonder if it is still feasible in more general discussions. It requires quite good control skill from the facilitator.