Just Do It. Or Don’t.

Oct 2, 2019–One of the great aphorisms is “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

I hew to my own version: “Do it, or let me do it. But don’t help me do it.”

When someone is performing a task, I tend to step back and let them get on with it. While that can be interpreted as lack of empathy, it comes from a place of experience and the way I wish to be treated.

A simple example is when I played drums for a living, such as it was. After many one-night gigs, I had a system for tearing down my drum set. It wasn’t unusual for ardent fans, usually tipsy ardent fans, to come around after a gig and offer to help. To be nice, I acquiesced at first. It didn’t work. It took me twice as long to pack up because of having to explain to them every little step. Plus it took me twice as long to set up at the next gig because parts were in the wrong place or taken apart incorrectly.

Another example of the diminishing returns of having someone help is the time I did the high ropes course. The task was to climb a telephone pole, then crabwalk to another telephone a hell of a long ways away, straddling two thick cables–one to stand on, and the other above your head to hang on. It was essentially chasseing along two swaying cables 20 feet above the hard Texas ground. I loved it. But what made it annoying was that everyone had to wear a safety harness that was belayed by a ground counselor. Belaying is the technique where someone on the ground feeds out rope in readiness to break a potential fall.

A noble and wise precaution. But to be effective, the belayer needs to keep a slight, constant resistance on your harness. For me, the belayed, swaying in the breeze, this slight pressure only served to continually move me off balance. I remember cursing under my breath that I’d be a heck of a lot safer if that guy wasn’t trying to keep me safe. I made it across in spite of the safety features.

Lately, I’ve noticed the entire auto industry is in overdrive “helping” us drive. I was speeding merrily down Highway 16 in our new 2019 vehicle when the steering wheel began shimmying. Did we get a lemon, the dad in me wondered? I soon figured out this was a new safety feature called “lane assistance.” If the car senses you are drifting out of your lane, it gives haptic feedback by making the steering wheel vibrate. What is this? Who stays in their lane perfectly? I drive like a horizontal pendulum–if you average all my driftings I would put my lane centering abilities up against anyone. In Texas we have an unbroken string of lane buttons and turtles to handle that anyway.

Back in my own truck, one evening I noticed the headlights started dimming of their own accord. Every time I met an oncoming vehicle, approached a large reflective sign, or slowed for an intersection, the lights automatically dimmed. Well and good, until I was zooming down the road meeting a steady stream of oncoming traffic. The headlights were dancing the mazurka with their brightening and dimming. And I couldn’t figure out how to turn the damn thing off.

Don’t misunderstand. I’ll be first to sign up for the self-driving vehicle. But it has to do it all–staying in the lane, dimming headlights, stopping at stop signs, avoiding pedestrians, and pulling into the drive-thru when I’m hungry.

Until then, stop nagging and just let me drive.