I don’t know why I remember this so clearly, because it wasn’t a big deal. It was an argument with a girlfriend in college. Why does it stand out this many years later? Probably because I knew I was wrong, but I was too prideful to admit it.
For most of my college years, I drove a red Volkswagen Squareback just like the one above. I can feel nostalgic about it now, but it seemed like nothing other than a 10-year-old underpowered economy car with no air conditioning at the time. (In an odd coincidence, a history professor I had at the University of Alabama who happened to be named Dr. David McElroy also drove an identical car.)
I happened to be dating a woman whose father had driven this car as a company car when it had been new 10 years before. Fairly early during our relationship, we were in that Volkswagen one day on some holiday when she asked me to turn my lights on, even though it was broad daylight.
She explained that her father had always told her it was a good idea to turn lights on for holidays, because more people were likely to be driving drunk or otherwise impaired. Anything you could do to aid visibility was a good idea, he had told her.
It seemed like a silly idea. If it was a good idea to drive with lights on for a holiday, it would make equal sense to do it for every other day. Nobody else did that, right? I’d certainly never been taught to turn on lights for holidays, so it couldn’t be a good idea.
We actually argued about this. Seriously.
Mostly, she just wanted me to do it because it would make her feel better. She didn’t have any incredibly deep reasons. It was simply what she had been taught and it seemed to make sense to her, so it would make her feel better if I’d do it.
But it wasn’t my idea and it wasn’t something I’d been taught, so my pride wouldn’t hear of doing something that didn’t make sense to me, even if there was no cost to it. At the time, it never occurred to me that the issue didn’t matter one bit — and that I could show care and concern for her by indulging her preference about something that didn’t matter.
But I was an idiot. I argued.
I didn’t have any good reasons not to do what she asked, so I quickly invented something so stupid that I cringe when I think about it now. I told her that because the lights are powered by the battery and the generator, the car’s engine had to work slightly harder when the lights were on, which meant that gas mileage was reduced by some tiny amount. In the heat of the argument, I actually made it sound as though it made sense.
That argument is so insanely stupid that I don’t even like admitting it all these years later. But I had stupidly and pridefully taken a dogmatic position about something trivial — and I had to win.
I did win. I didn’t turn the lights on. And all these years later, I regret being a prideful jerk who had to be right — or had to at least somehow justify doing things my way.
I have two reactions when I think of things such as this from the past. I’m relieved that I’ve outgrown certain foolish and prideful behavior, but I also find myself embarrassed to realize what pride and stubbornness have cost me at times — and how I’ve probably hurt others in tiny ways, too.
As I’ve gotten older and more mature, I’ve learned which things are worth taking a dogmatic position about and which battles are best left unfought. I’ve learned that there are plenty of times when you comply with the wishes of a loved one — not because you think the person’s wish is right or necessary, but just because you love the person and want to make that person feel valued and secure.
I think about this frequently these days, sometimes on holidays and sometimes just when it’s raining and I have my lights on during the day, as was the case Sunday afternoon.
I cringe when I think about this and when I think about plenty of other examples. I’m glad I’m not that person anymore. I’m glad I know now that humility and accommodation generally make more sense than pride and stubbornness.
Gail, wherever you are, I was wrong. I’m sure you knew that then. I probably knew it then, too — at least deep down — but I definitely know it now.
I was wrong.