At cross purposes

March 31, 2017


Down the road from my office is one of Melbourne’s most dangerous railway crossings. At least, it was until recently. Now it’s gone. 

Those back-street dodges that I and thousands of other drivers had learnt by heart to beat the morning commute crawl are no longer necessary. The crossing has been replaced by fresh asphalt and the notorious boom gates and flashing lights are gone.

So you would think the first day the new road opened would be a red-letter day for us long-suffering drivers. We knew when the crossing was due to reopen—it had been well-publicised with signs on café windows, updates posted on bulletin boards and into our computer inboxes. We were well informed—and eager to put the inconvenience of months of construction behind us.

But on the morning the road reopened, I took my usual slow home-school-office route around Blackburn’s back streets, bumper-to-bumper with other regular commuters keen to avoid the construction chaos. 

Imagine my dismay, as I glanced over to the crossing I had driven around to avoid, to see there no construction going on there anymore. The works had finished, the level crossing had gone and the new road was open—I could have driven across it!

And, at the height of the morning peak, not one car was using that sparkling new piece of infrastructure. Where were they all? Behind me of course, in the familiar traffic jam—still using our well-worn paths to our destinations.

How could I have missed my chance to drive on that long-anticipated new road? I’d had the emails, I’d read the signs. But like an experimental rat, I found myself, along with my fellow commuters, simply following my “new normal” instead of embracing the new. 

Sound familiar? The well-worn path is easy to travel, especially on auto-pilot. To get stuck in a rut and live in that rut seems, well, just easier sometimes. It was a safer (if more inconvenient) option to wind around the back streets than take the risk that the road would be open as promised.  

As I told this tale to my colleagues, one of them reminded me of a concept called “learned helplessness”. It’s a theory that says that a person is worn down by trials to a point where they give up trying and opt for an easier path. I felt a bit like that—why try the new road when it probably won’t be open—just let me do what I’ve always done.

In my life and work I’ve realised that I can’t keep doing what I’ve always done. There’s a verse in the Bible that talks about that, when God speaks through his prophet Isaiah, saying, “I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?”

We all want to “see” it, but sometimes we miss it. With our heads down looking constantly at our phones and our worries, new things are all around us waiting to be embraced. There are risks to be taken, faith to be tested, new ground to break.

I’m not planning to miss the “new” thing again. So I’m taking the new road tomorrow. What about you? 


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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Vol. 139, No. 14 // 11 April 2020

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