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There should be a special circle of Hell reserved for line-jumpers. One in which they are perpetually and endlessly driven to cut the line, and they are forever thwarted and condemned for it.

Hyperbole aside, I realised today, as we encountered a spot of roadwork on the highway and were forced to trickle down to a single lane, that the aggravation of waiting was actually quite mild (so long as I’m not in a rush), relative to the anger I feel at the sight of someone trying to jump the line. And though I am usually a fairly calm person, it is something akin to rage that I experience at the sight of such behaviour.

When I react so strongly to something, I often like to step back and ask myself “why”? What button is this particular behaviour pushing in my psyche?

In this case, it’s because when I join the line and stay in it, my primary motivation has little to do with duty, fear of censure or peer pressure. It arises out of a fundamental sense of fairness. To me, the idea of waiting one’s turn is fair. It’s civic, it’s communal, it’s about giving something up–in this case, one’s time–in order to ensure that everyone gets a similar experience. It’s not pleasant for anyone, but if we all do it together, and wait our turn, then we’ll all have a comparable level of inconvenience and no-one will be stuck with an unfair shake. That’s part of what working together is about.

It’s for this reason, I suppose, that line-jumpers infuriate me–because they offend my inherent sense of fairness and civic-mindedness. Instead of co-operating, joining the line and waiting their turn, they prioritize the value of their time above everyone else’s. It’s about short-term gain and some entrenched sense of entitlement.

Traits which, as you can imagine, I dislike intensely (which is itself a strong statement for me).

Thinking about all this made me wonder what justifications–if any–a line-jumper might proffer, if asked. There are, of course, all the self-serving, self-absorbed, obvious reasons like “I’m just really in a hurry” or “it’s just one person (me) and it won’t add that much time to everyone else’s wait” and so on. Once placed in the context of everyone else’s time valuations and so on, these simply don’t hold up, from a fairness perspective. There are the “special circumstances” reasons that I’d be more tolerant of if there were some way of ascertaining them at the time of the line jump–the “my wife is in labour” or “my child is in the hospital” types of justifications.

But I do wonder, as a thought experiment of sorts, whether there are any reasons someone could possibly give that would actually hold up as reasonable outside of the “special circumstances” exemption.

I often engage in this exercise when I encounter behaviour that irritates me or strikes me as unfair, in part because finding a reasonable explanation for such behaviours sometimes means that the behaviours are less irritating. And hey, I’m always good with having fewer irritants in my life.

I also find this an interesting exercise from a writing perspective. I like to think in terms of antagonists rather than villains, so even when I’m writing nasty characters, I try to think of ways for them to be justified in their own minds, at least. Sometimes that justification does simply arise out of a profound selfishness, entitlement or lack of compassion. But if it’s possible to get into the mindset of such characters, to present credible, alternate motivations for seemingly unsympathetic actions, then that can often open the space for nuanced and intriguing conflicts.

Sadly, in the case of line-jumpers, my imagination failed me. I have yet to come up with a reasonable explanation for such behaviours–and so, they continue to irritate me. Perhaps my bias against such behaviour is just so profound that I simply cannot see beyond it, to legitimate, fair-minded, equality-based reasons for jumping the line.

Given that, I couldn’t help but feel a good deal of satisfaction when I saw, in the rearview mirror, several vehicles throughout the line, straddling the lanes and joining the community effort, doing their best to thwart the upstarts.

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