As I sat in my car this week watching a flagger stop a line of cars so the needed road construction could progress, I truly understood how tough their job is. That’s because for one summer I, too, was a flagger. The lessons I learned, there on the side of the road, have stayed with me all these years.
For you to fully understand the impact of my roadside experiences, I must provide some background information about myself. During my childhood, I was regularly reminded how happy my parents were that I was born. I was protected and cherished. I was also expected to live with courage and honor, to work hard and be helpful to the people in my life.
And like many late Baby Boomers, my parents learned from their Depression-era parents that there was honor in serving your country, working hard, encouraging your children to live bigger than the generation before, and behaving with respect.
I thought about all of this one afternoon, now years ago, when I set down my flagging sign, momentarily took off my hard hat, and asked God to repair my bruised psyche. Of the many hats I had chosen to wear in my life, wearing that bright yellow hard hat proved the most protective, yet took me to places of extreme vulnerability.
Hard hats and iridescent vests are designed to bring workers into clear view of approaching drivers, but the more time I spent flagging the more I mentally envisioned the outfit as a shield, deflecting the venom, molten language, and unreasonable frustration that occasionally poured out onto me when I asked hurried drivers to slow down, stop briefly, or heaven forbid — take an alternate route.
That summer our flagging team was regularly abused by drivers as we did our best to safely control traffic around construction sites. To my great surprise and sorrow, this included extreme verbal harassment and witnessing incredibly poor behaviors on a daily basis.
While I felt sickened and disillusioned, I also got a surprising lesson from God: when your personal reserves are gone — worn down by financial stress, ill health, broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams, isolation, and little hope — you are more likely to behave badly when irritated by a sudden inconvenience that changes your plans.
Author and therapist Michael Gurian in his book, “The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of Our boys and Young Men,” speaks specifically to boys when he says that a dangerous and exponentially growing number of our boys live in confusion, ethical numbness, moral distraction, and spiritual emptiness.” And lest you think I am unfairly picking on men, I witnessed enough bad behavior from women to apply Gurian’s assertions to a more general understanding. As a society, we will not generously or graciously respond to interruptions, inconveniences and personal sacrifices without a foundation of morality and faith that works to balance and override our immediate irritations. Without values, we lose the socially accepted notion that it’s simply not right to be rude.
The weather is amazing and our roads are under construction. Let’s all match the beauty that surrounds us and give a flagger or anyone working on our roads appreciation and respect.