Today is Black Friday, and I, among millions of other Americans, made the mistake of leaving the house. My friend was having a birthday party in a Rainforest Cafe in a mall, and I wound up spending a good two hours total in the mall parking lot. Which gave me a lot of time to think about how one should act in a parking lot.
For one thing, I noticed how much everyone protected their own interests. It was fascinating; people would wait for five, ten, fifteen minutes just to turn right because the people already on that road were determined to keep moving forwards. But then, if someone let one car through, a whole line would follow, everyone afraid to sit through another crawling parade.
I’m sure most people get through this without considering it an ethical quandary, but, well, I had a lot of time to think while I was sitting in that parking lot. It seems to me that the goal of most interactions, including those that happen under the anonymity of a vehicle, should be to maximize widespread happiness of everybody involved. In this case, happiness is caused by getting through the parking lot quickly.
To maximize widespread happiness, people who have a chance to let cars turn should do so, but only within reason. It does not make sense to let four cars turn ahead of you; that slows you up to such a degree that it does not seem fair. It does, however, make sense to let one car turn ahead of you, and, if everyone follows these same ethics, the next car would turn ahead of the car behind you.
It seems like this would still slow up the line, since now the four cars are still turning into the road, just at different times. But if the line is slow anyway, it’s not going to feel much slower because of this, and happiness is caused in part by your perception of events.
It’s far too easy to get angry at other drivers in a parking lot, but, really, everyone who goes to a mall on Black Friday knows what they’re getting into. They may be like me, and not have wanted to go to the mall in the first place, but I at least knew that I was descending into Hell. And it does not help with one’s own happiness or anybody else’s when one gets angry; one will often retaliate with honking or yelling, and that makes the people in the cars around them feel even more anxious than they already are. This is a situation where the rational brain needs to triumph over the emotional brain, since the rational brain is the one that will allow you to sit and find a parking spot with the smallest emotional sacrifice.
As you can tell, I spent far too much time thinking about these things today. But, hey, that’s what happens when you make the mistake of going to a mall on Black Friday.