The Back Seat

The phrase, “I call shotgun” is a widely known expression in the US. If you’re not familiar with it, the person shouting this phrase is making a claim for the front passenger seat of a car, and the first person to say it reserves it for themselves.

As far as I know, there is no such declaration securing any enviable spot in the seats behind the driver. The back seat doesn’t have the same pizzazz or prestige one experiences while sitting mere inches ahead of the others. Perhaps what makes the front seat so coveted is that the view is less obstructed, and although that person may technically arrive at the location milliseconds ahead of the rest, no one can safely exit until the vehicle comes to a complete stop.

The back seat, in many situations, has also developed a somewhat dark and seedy reputation. For those relegated to the back seat, it can be a form of punishment. Other times as in the case of a bus, people go there not to be noticed while they connive and strategize secret plans.

When a person is figurately told to take a back seat, that denotes they are allowing others to shine instead of themselves. For the most part, the back seat is rarely regarded a desirable position or one of noted envy. Although it is made from the same padding and material as the other seats, it has somehow unfairly been dubbed with this dubious distinction. But has it acquired this title under false pretenses? What has it done to deserve this reviled status?

The view

I don’t blame children for wanting to sit in the front seat. As a young boy with two older brothers, it was more of a treat to have this opportunity. Sometimes, my mom would let me put the car in gear and it was the closest my younger self could get to feel like I was driving. Sitting in the back mainly meant staring at the seat in front of me with not many other views available.

Thankfully, over the years, my perspective of the back seat has changed. When I am getting into a car with multiple people, I rarely choose the shotgun position. Even if I am taller than the others, I’ll defer it to someone else. No matter how little legroom there is, I want to be kind or show respect for those I am with. A little bit of inconvenience or discomfort shouldn’t make the trip any less enjoyable.

If someone insists I sit in the front, I will accept their thoughtful gesture. However, it is more important than I am offered it rather than to expect or believe I have earned it. This may appear to be a trivial consideration, but it’s the small things in life that can be the most revealing. The seemingly insignificant moments are the ones that often distinguish who we are and how we define ourselves.


The front and back seats are powerful metaphors for many situations in today’s world. There are numerous ways, both subtle and demonstrative, we can figuratively “call shotgun” and perhaps not realize we are doing it. Instead of being offered the spotlight or admiration, some may indiscriminately assume they have earned or deserved it.

It is often revealed in the way we think of ourselves or the importance of our own opinions. Giving ourselves titles such as advocate, humanitarian, and philanthropist are too easily self-imposed. These labels are meant to indicate dedication and commitment to a cause greater than oneself. But when those titles are bestowed upon us by others, that validation indicates we have done the important work.

Other terms such as influencer, activist, or motivator likewise are labels many enjoy hearing along with their names. But simply because these designations sound appealing, it doesn’t imply those actions are actually being demonstrated by those bearing them.

When a label becomes equal to or more important than the work those titles signify, that is precisely when we lose sight of who we are and what our actions were supposed to have been.

It’s much better to have that moniker given to us by someone else rather than glossing ourselves with it.

Granted, there are circumstances when we should exude extreme confidence and pride, but I am not referring to those situations. It is those times when we believe brandishing an impressive title will make us look better in the eyes of others, but this is nothing more than a misguided and foolish assumption. If we are not vigilant against it, there will be traps waiting to snare us and perhaps tempt us to lower our standards or neglect our integrity which carries far greater importance than any designation could ever bring.

Is there anyone you personally know who gave themselves a prestigious title without earning it and you continue to respect them for it? If we ever apply any title to ourselves, we should always keep in mind its authentic meaning and not defy it by feeding our selfish desires or greedy appetites.

Along for the ride

Imagine a world where everyone chose the back seat first, and accepted the front seat when it was granted to them? Where kindness and consideration were the default actions and those with interminable egos were dismissed or scorned.

There are far too many examples of people calling shotgun, expecting stellar treatment, and demanding they sit in the front while purposely denying others any opportunity of fairness or equality. This kind of selfish attitude must cease to be praised and become shunned like the cancerous deed it always has been.

It may be possible that this unheralded position known as the back seat, may be the catalyst to spark one of the greatest changes in modern society. By accepting honors and titles only when we have earned them and allowing others to value and recognize us for the changing work we have done, we may all learn to ride better together.


John Dunia
John Dunia
John has a passion; and that is helping others heal from past difficulties and abuses. Healing became important when he realized how much it freed him from his own past and now works to help others experience that liberation. The key to his success was discovering that the most debilitating damage was his own shame and the destructive things he believed about who he was. Throughout his own healing journey, he became hyper-aware of how shame was affecting him while having little clue of its presence. Others noticed these changes and reached out to him for help. His methods were so effective that he made it a mission to shift his career into helping others. Adopting the term “ShameDoctor”, he continues to teach others to empower themselves through his remarkably effective techniques. “Shame is one of the biggest yet least talked about issues we face as individuals and society yet so very little is mentioned about it.” It is his purpose to change the way the world perceives shame and promote helpful and viable techniques to heal and overcome those past struggles. John’s book, “Shame On Me – Healing a Life of Shame-Based thinking” was self-published in 2016. In addition to working with clients, John also writes healing and insightful articles each week. He is also looking forward to speaking on the topics of shame and healing throughout the globe.

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  1. Good article . it is another dimension that after retirement from any job one is to take back seat. Usually still hands and legs go up the motion , having viewed on he front. One realises now there is no control with them . One has to adapt to this situation

  2. I love the premise of this article, John. That kindness and consideration should be the default. I agree wholeheartedly.

    Humorous anecdote: In Japan, the backseat of a car is considered the “seat of honor” if you are traveling with business colleagues. I didn’t know this when I first arrived there in 1997 to live and teach English. The first time I met my boss and another superior, we took a trip together to have lunch. Wanting to be polite, I quickly hopped in the backseat (which should have been reserved for my two bosses). Only later did I come to understand the reason for the awkward and confused looks I got that day.

    • It’s quite interesting how cultures can clash over similar situations. Although, my guess is that Western views are probably tainted by being “first” or in a “higher” position.