Hello again lovely humans!
So good to have you visit my thoughts.
This week, I had an interesting conversation about ROAD RAGE!
I once heard that road rage was considered to be added into the DSM-V, the official book of all mental disorders in Psychology. At the time, I wasn’t even surprised to hear it. As it turned out, it ended up not making it into the book, but the rumor left an impression on me.
Having experienced it first hand, I can vouch that road rage is a very real thing.
When I worked at my 9-5 corporate job many years ago, I would find myself driving to work on Decarie Boulevard (which is in Montreal, for my out of town friends) and cursing the entire 9.4 km. I wasn’t late to work, yet I would feel impatient and rushed as my car advanced at a staggering rate of a meter a minute. I remember holding on so tightly to my steering wheel, my knuckles turned white and sore.
“The people who designed this autoroute are idiots!!” I would say every morning (in less graceful words). I didn’t understand how, and why, each morning, there was so much traffic in the same way. How has no one figured out a way to solve this problem?!
I know I'm not the first person to think this.
The thing is, my road rage wasn’t triggered only by traffic jams. It was by people cutting me off, people not signaling before changing lanes, people driving too slowly or too fast. People in front of me who had slowed down to take a turn. It was a mess. My mind would spiral into anger and I couldn’t let it go until I literally stepped out of my car. At which point I felt infinitely better.
It appeared to me that when we step into our vehicles, it’s as if we step into a bubble that is entirely our own (especially when we drive alone). We are driving around in our individual reality on a road that is shared by other people in their own reality bubbles in the form of a Honda Civic and such. Each time I stepped into my car, I entered a world with its own set of rules. In a way, that’s accurate, since driving does have its own set of rules and laws to follow. But on an emotional and energetic level, I would enter a new space.
One day this was made clear to me: I drove down a street and approached a traffic light. When I pulled up, I stopped at the line and waited. A car drove up and stopped next to me. But, like, right next to me. Window to window. And in that moment, I felt vulnerable. I noticed I did not look over to the car. I didn’t look at the driver. I felt exposed in my space. That’s when I realized something interesting. My car was like my home, and anyone looking in was intruding on my privacy. My mobile privacy.
So I started experimenting. I would stop next to people and, through my own discomfort, would look to my neighbor. None of them looked back at me. How fascinating!
For the record, I’m one of those people who sing along really loudly to songs in the car. I blast my favorite songs (sometimes it’s Disney songs) and would sing at the top of my lungs!
Those who know Disney know that ‘Let it go’ gets really high-pitched! And I promise you, I would try to hit those high notes each time, though not always successfully.
One time, I was singing Linkin Park (I remember specifically because of what happened next) so loudly that I had completely forgotten that OTHER PEOPLE CAN HEAR ME!
The guy who had stopped next to me had a front row seat to my (awesome) performance. He waited until the pause in the song and said to me “YES!!! LINKIN PARK!!! SING IT!!!”
I flushed red, but kept singing, because I was in my jam. It was one of the first times my interaction with another vehicle bubble on the road was not only sweet and pleasant, but connected and stimulating! Since then, I began smiling at my fellow drivers as much as I could. Those who looked straight ahead missed my smile. Those who did look my way caught a glimpse of kindness.
Back to the conversation I had this week about road rage. My partner and I drove around and he commented on a driver who had cut him off. He wasn’t angry (my partner that is) but he definitely didn’t appreciate the cut off. That’s when I remembered a story I heard once:
“Imagine you are driving on the highway and you get cut off by someone speeding through traffic. He is driving aggressively, cutting cars off left and right. You get angry and think to yourself ‘this jackass cut me off! He should get stopped by the police!!’ which is often the response to being this badly disrespected in the road. Now imagine knowing that the reason this man drove like a lunatic, cutting people off and speeding, was that he was rushing to the hospital to see his son who was just in a terrible car accident and might not make it much longer. Has this perspective changed the way you feel about getting cut off?”
I shared this story with my partner. He said to me “yes, that’s a good perspective and a good way to see the love and compassion in situations, but 80% of the time, the person is simply a jerk!”
I understood his counter argument, having had really bad road rage once upon a time. But here is what I shared:
When someone cuts you off (or disrespects you in any way in life, not just on the road), you have a choice of how you can respond. It is your decision. You can react with anger, which is very understandable and most often the case. OR you can choose to see a perspective that will soften the anger, sometimes dissolving it completely, by putting yourself in their shoes. Whether or not their shoes are actually the ones you’re imagining them to be is irrelevant. For all we know, the guy in the mustang could very well have been a jerk with no consideration for others on the road. But you can choose to see his story as one that merits compassion.
What if he just had an awful day and is eager to just get home and let out some steam?
What if his daughter was stranded on the side of the road and he needed to get to her fast?
What if she just got her period and desperately needed to get home (all you ladies surely relate to that sense of urgency).
What if his wife was delivering their first child and he needed to get to the hospital quickly? (unlikely, I know, but what if?!)
And what if he was a kid who just got his license and didn’t quite understand the proper road etiquette? In which case, he’ll need to learn ASAP, but still, understanding helps to release the anger.
When I started thinking this way, here is what I experienced. What was once a moment of intense rage towards another being, which often lasted the duration of my drive and sometimes longer, was now a moment of anger followed by a flip of the switch: “maybe they’re just having a bad day… I’ve been there, and I get it”. Just like that, my rage was no more.
It’s not about feeling anger towards someone as a sense of justice. “If I send them anger, something bad will happen to them and I will feel better knowing justice was served”. It doesn’t work like that. If I feel anger towards someone then I am feeling anger. That is the end of it. The longer I feel anger, the longer I feel heavy and hot, and I have a wrinkle in between my eyebrows. And that’s it. It doesn’t go anywhere, it stays with me. That's like "drinking poison and expecting the other person to die" (origin of this quote is unknown).
If I choose to see the lighter perspective, I let go of anger, I release that energy and can feel love and compassion for another being, which, let me tell you, my wonderful reader, feels a hell of a lot better!
“If someone cut me off, I can tell them they are being stupid!” Someone said to me once.
Have you ever done the “are you stupid?” motion with your finger against your temple, like you’re really asking the other driver if they are actually stupid? I have! It made me feel like I contributed to society by calling stupidity out when I see it. Maybe this person will see my hand gesture and think, “Oh, I was probably being stupid, I will try to do better from now on”. Because, let’s be honest, how many times has that ever happened?
In my rage, I had cut people off, to which their response was always, with a finger to their temple “are you freaking stupid?!”, or just a different finger in another position, and my reply was always (always) “ahhhh shut up…”
So, you see, that doesn’t actually work.
At this point, my partner told me a story where he and his friend were once driving and someone had cut them off. His friend pulled down his window and said “you’re the reason this world is so shitty” (I’m paraphrasing here). It later transpired that the person pulled over and said to them “you know, I was having a really bad day, and you’re right, I shouldn’t have cut you off, I’m sorry”. A part of me had a hard time believing this story, because, from my experience, this type of ownership of emotion doesn’t usually happen. But in the end, I did choose to believe it because I believe in humanity. I believe people are good. I believe everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.. Which is why, when someone cuts me off, I send them love. When someone goes before me at a stop sign, I smile at them and give them a “go ahead” hand gesture. Or at least I try to most of the time. I'm not a saint, ok?! I have bad days too...
And I feel good about it. Which, I think, is ultimately the point. Feeling good with your response to what life throws at you. In whatever shape it chooses to take.
As always, with love and kindness,