While I was commuting across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco every day, I would notice how frequently people (including me!) changed lanes to get into what seemed to be the fastest lane at the moment. The bridge, built sixty years ago, is only six lanes across for both directions of traffic, so it would often get clogged. A hyperintelligent seagull, looking down on the scene from the top of the bridge, might observe what we down in our cars could not-that all that lane-changing activity was just slowing everybody down. If everybody would just stay put, they would get where they were going faster. But that can only happen if every driver, on his or her own, makes the same decision. So, as illogical as it often seemed, I experimented with forcing myself to stay in the lane I was in. I can't say if the seagull was always right (sometimes a car stalls and one lane gets completely blocked!). But I felt more relaxed. I didn't have to worry about shifting this way or that, I just followed the car in front of me. And when people tried to cut in front of me, I let them. I had the feeling that if I let someone in today, someone else might let me in tomorrow.
We are always part of the larger situation, whether we are on the freeway or in the middle of our workday. What might seem to work best for us at the moment might not work best for the whole situation. Even though we know that our solitary decision will not magically alter the behavior of all the other drivers, staying in our own lane is not just naive altruism. It is more like making a spiritual investment and a connection with something larger than ourselves, not because it will reap an immediate reward but because it alters the chemistry between us and our surroundings in an intriguing and calming way.