The Perfect Merge

Lori Vermeulen - Pottstown, Pennsylvania
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, February 15, 2013
Lori Vermeulen

For Lori Vermeulen, a "merge" sign is more than a traffic directive in a construction zone. It’s a life philosophy based on making a choice to do what is best for the group versus what is best for the individual.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that the strength of a person’s faith is inversely proportional to the distance she travels before merging when entering a construction zone.

“Merge!” the blinking yellow lights shout. “Merge! Go left! Move over immediately!” What’s a body to do when faced with such clear direction as this? If I merge immediately, I will be obeying the law. Furthermore, I will be safely in the correct lane when only one lane remains. What else can I do but merge?

Well, there is, of course, a second option. The alternative is to selfishly speed ahead while leaving those early mergers in my dust. I can pass everybody and sneak into the merge lane at the last possible moment. This choice would put me in first place, and isn’t first place the best place to be?

This is a simple choice if I am thinking only of myself. The decision only becomes complicated when I consider both the actions and the welfare of my fellow mergers. If all drivers merge as soon as possible, everyone will be in the right place when the two lanes become one. No one will be left behind. A perfect merge means that no one is delayed for even one second. But, let’s face it: if just one individual chooses to speed ahead, a delay will occur for everyone when the entire merged lane must stop to let the speedy one in. And, in that case, he who merged first will wait the longest. Do I want to be the offender? The one who just “can’t wait” and ultimately destroys the synchronous beauty of the perfect merge?

To love one’s enemies is to merge early and wave to the guy who speeds on. Isn’t that what all the great religions teach? I am a human being, and therefore I have a choice. I can choose to be selfish and a step ahead of everyone else, or I can choose to be generous and accept the risk of being left behind.

It is an act of faith to merge early. My faith in making this choice is not in the belief that all will merge early and no one will be delayed. Oh, no. As long as there are human beings, there will be those who will fail and fall short, and there will be times when I will be one of the fallen ones. My faith is in the belief that sacrifice for others is inherently good and making the choice to do good is the gift of being human.

I’m now a college administrator and professor, as well as a parent, so I’ve had numerous opportunities to look at many different perceptions of fairness and try to understand them. I tell my students and my own children that the important thing is that everybody has a choice, but the only choices you can control are your own. We find unfairness everywhere in life. I believe it’s best to accept this and choose to do the right thing.

So I merge early because I can. And I hope that I smile and wave when stopping to let my fellow man in ahead of me.

Lori Vermeulen is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of chemistry at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for more than 30 years and is the mother of three beautiful children.

Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.