Why Taking Turns Creates a Strong Society

Taking turns is one of the most important — yet underused and underappreciated – totems of social living.  I’m not talking about, “It’s My Turn!” as in the clarion call of a self-centered existence when it comes to job promotion or marriage tying; I’m talking about public moments in society when we are confronted against each other and there’s a moment of wondering if I should go or if you should go — and it seems we have an ever-deepening problem with being strong enough, and confident enough, to let the other person go first and subsume our own personal entitlements for the goodness of making things actually work between people with warring wants.

The most common cause of consternation in taking turns occurs at traffic intersections when there are no traffic signals or stop signs.  That four-way stop is fascinating to watch when more than one car approaches the intersection.  Sure, there’s the Right of Way law — but none of that matters to these drivers unless there’s a policeman nearby.  Usually, the car that gets there first — or is approaching fastest — takes the Right of Way, because they are too busy to be bothered to stop or obey the rules of the road and let the person on their right go before them.

Another example is opening doors for each other on the street.  That small courtesy is a way to indicate you understand the game of life is to get along with other people.  You open a door for someone and, later in the day, someone might just open a door for you in return.  However, we must not travel through life expecting reciprocity — because we will surely be disappointed.

We teach our children to share and to take turns and to be patient and polite — but oh, how quickly those proper manners fade as we age into adulthood.  “Me First” somehow becomes the new commonplace mantra, and when everyone wants to go first — that plainly means everyone else is expected to come in last.  I actually don’t mind coming in last, and waiting my turn, just because it’s less hectic and stressful to take that approach as opposed to chest-puffing and finger-pointing that I am the most important person in the room, and I have no time to spare, and therefore, I must always take lead in any line.

We honor each other when we share our patience.  It’s a winsome strategy to let the other person feel righteous and go first and, in many ways, you take back the power you gave up trying to go first, by simply deciding to give the other person the right of way for once.

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