• Mike Matson

On Second Thought

This column was published January 8, 2022 in the Manhattan Mercury.


There are no shoulders on Marlatt Avenue, so, when I saw the two cars stopped ahead of me, I had no choice but to slow down, stop, then make my way around what was a high volume confrontation. Apparently, the trailing car honked at the leading car, the driver of the leading car took umbrage sufficient that he slammed on the brakes, exited his vehicle and lit into the honker.

My Marlatt road rager was not the outlier. We’re surrounded by anger, resentment, sadness, and apathy. The pandemic and its fallout on our existence has forced us onto a narrow highway with no shoulders.

Talk to people in the criminal justice system and you will hear stories with this common thread: More people are taking more umbrage these days. Friends in the mental health field tell me disruptions from the norm, from what we know, often leads to a shock that comes with realizing you’re unprepared for change.

There’s a simple, but eloquent phrase popular in some addiction recovery circles: “Think, think, think.” The same verb, three times. The implication is to purposefully force yourself into the second thought, because the first one sucked.

That SOB honked at me for no reason. He’s wrong, I’m right and he needs to know it.

A second thought can allow for a better outcome.

He honked at me and, yeah, I’m angry, but I’ma let it slide.

When you allow yourself the time to think about thinking, the third thought brings even more clarity and very often, introspection.

Maybe I should have used my turn signal.

When, all of a sudden (read: nearly two years), we wake up and find our world has changed, we lack the wherewithal to deal with it. It’s stressful to go through a process of understanding the world as we thought it was, is no longer there.

A quote from a recent column by Elizabeth Weil about climate change connected specifically to California wildfires here to stay, hit home. “We’re living through a discontinuity – the moment where the experience and expertise you’ve built up over time cease to work.”

It’s not society’s job, nor the government, church, police department or the school, to bend to my will. Ditto my neighbor, family member, professional colleague or fellow motorist.

There may also be an element of entitlement working here. We lived for decades getting what we wanted, never being put in a position to even have to consider giving it a second thought. I’ll always remember the palpable joy in our household on April 15, 2020, over the arrival on our front porch of a case of twenty-four rolls of toilet paper.

These are the days of impulsivity and apathy. We are in the throes of crisis. Another way to think about it (a second thought), is we are connected to each other as we all struggle with a host of daily events and circumstances that are not like they used to be and have forced us from our comfort zones.

By their very nature, impulsivity and apathy lead to a lack of caring and respecting others.

Next thing you know, you’ve taken enough umbrage to stop your car in the middle of Marlatt Avenue and you’re all up in the grill of a fellow motorist.

A third thought. We can acknowledge this societal evolution, realize that we’re unprepared, dig in and become prepared. Perhaps starting with the notion that the world does not revolve around me.

It is my job to recognize change, to take less umbrage, then adapt.

Mike Matson’s latest book, Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction, is the creative nonfiction story of his young adult years, when negative traits and behaviors that preceded addiction were in full bloom. Available at bookstores and online.