Justin Ricklefs


The Clutch of Kindness

I learned to drive on a Toyota Tercel. A 2-door, red beauty that had automatic seatbelts (whoa), and a stick shift.

I felt like a baller for knowing how to operate those manual gears.

RIP to the Tercel, they stopped making it in 1999, for a lot of really good reasons if you google it.

I put that Tercel in a ditch once, on a patch of ice on my way back to Mizzou after winter break. But that’s another story.

As I was learning to drive, as a permitted 15 1/2 year old, I remember pulling up to a stoplight on a hill. And then some jackass pulled up right behind me with barely any room.

I panicked.

If you’ve ever driven a stick shift, you know that it takes just the right amount of footwork dancing for the car to go forward. And on a hill, it’s even more precarious.

Let the clutch out too fast, and you lurch and jerk and kill the car.

Let it out too slow, and well, the jackass behind would get a fender full of the Tercel.

I looked over at mom, intent on pulling the emergency brake and switching seats before I made a fool of myself.

She just smiled and said, “you got this.”

Green light.

Anxious as could be, but focused, my left foot disengaged in equal harmony while my right foot engaged.

Forward we went, thank goodness.

I think the clutch can teach us a thing or two in this typically binary, automatic, black and white, programmed world.

One that’s fairly rigid, harsh, and often, unkind.

I ripped off the phrase, likely from some podcast I listened to, but I heard this concept of the Clutch of Kindness.

A clutch is a pattern interruptor. It requires touch, intentionality, and a bit of magic.

And, when applied appropriately, it diffuses the tension and fosters acceleration.

And kindness, geez, we’re all in short supply of the giving and receiving of it.

What happens when you pattern interrupt with kindness when someone expects to be throttled? Or vice versa, when you’re anticipating the fender full of someone’s wrath and they offer the clutch of kindness instead?

It seems to diffuse tension, build trust, and foster smooth acceleration. A better way forward, indeed.

Sure, we may lurch and jerk a bit and need to apologize some in the process, but maybe we could all use a bit more of its magic and gentleness today.

As my mom said, “you got this.”

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