YOU’VE SEEN THIS a thousand times: A guy swoops down the freeway at great speed and cuts in front of you so he can tailgate the guy in the next lane — then pulls the same stunt again so he can gain perhaps another ten seconds on the traffic. You take an ample bite out of your steering wheel and look for the cop who’s never there. It’s called the “gotta be first” mentality and it prevails in our society in many ways.

Remember when you were a kid and there was a certain distinction — if only in your own mind — to be the first of your pals to see the new blockbuster film at the local Bijou? At age nine it gained you certain bragging rights, plus you could pester your friends with a detailed synopsis of the plot, thereby ruining their enjoyment at a later viewing. And didn’t you just hate it if you failed to get to the theater first?

And it goes on… first on the block to get the new DVD player, the first to get a plasma screen (and among the first to find out that you’d blown serious cash), first to get a hybrid car, demonstrating to neighbors and co-workers that you not only could keep up with the Joneses, you were the Joneses.

So is this a problem? Does it really matter? I think it does. In the first place, that guy who risked life and limb — most likely yours, as well as his — may, at best ,gain only minutes over his entire commute, as demonstrated once in a comparison in Manhattan traffic. Your neighbor who wired up that glittering new DVD player likely paid nearly double the price of later buyers. And hybrid cars, starting at the end of the month, will no longer get to fly solo in the freeway carpool lanes.

But more importantly, the drive to lead the pack is also the way to unnecessary stress, and if you begin your work day in that style, everybody pays, especially you.

It took me awhile, but in recent years I’ve determined that a slower approach is better. More than that — and I’m talking about driving here — I also decided to simplify the process. First and foremost, I will arrive if I manage to drive safely; then, too,there’s no compulsion to be the first to any parking anywhere, office or shopping mall. I just will not take the risk to cross any finish line ahead of the pack. Further, the coveted space nearest the entrance can go to anyone else; the extra walking distance will do me good. In traffic I will take cellphone calls, but hang up promptly. I almost never turn on the radio; the outside world is just too interesting to miss.

What a good boy am I? Hardly. We’re talking about survival here. And we’re talking about the dissipation of stress, big time stress. How often have you had to listen to a co-worker or neighbor complain about the moron who almost killed him on the expressway because of his wild manners — or the slow traffic that wouldn’t get out of his way? Great way to start the day with the old blood pressure soaring to 190/110.

Not for me. I can wait. To drive sensibly from point A to point B. For the prices to come down on the latest electronics wonder. For that celebrated new film to show up on Netflix.

But then that’s just me. I’ve always enjoyed the subtleties of things, the nuances. The things that are worth taking some time to appreciate. Life at 90 mph sort of precludes doing that.

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