“Transportation is the center of the world! When it goes well, we don’t see it. When it goes wrong, it negatively colors our day, makes us feel angry and impotent, curtails our possibilities.”
~ Robin Chase
Yesterday, I had an encounter with an angry man in a large white van. I was driving on the highway at what I felt was a reasonable pace. The man in the van behind me, however, disagreed. He did not think my pace was reasonable at all.
In fact, he made this very clear to me when he switched lanes and sped up to pass me. The middle finger on his left hand made a deliberate and forceful appearance in my direction. He stuck his arm all the way out of his window to make sure that I did not miss his gesture, or misinterpret its meaning. He was MAD.
More specifically, he was mad at me.
My first response was one of shock.
I didn’t know what to do with that anger. I didn’t know what I had done to deserve it.
The man in the van had taken my driving personally, as if I had deliberately driven slow to irritate him.
But the truth is, I hadn’t. I am not a slow driver, nor would I ever want to upset another driver on purpose.
The truth is, I was just doing my best to follow the rules of the road.
My second response, therefore, was to be upset. Confusion quickly gave way to indignation at the man’s rudeness–at the presumptions he had made about me.
After all, he didn’t know me.
He didn’t know that I was driving my sister home from the hospital after one of her treatments. He didn’t know that she is in the process of recovering from her second bout of Leukemia in eight years. He didn’t know that she had a stem cell transplant last September, or that she is struggling to negotiate the side effects.
He didn’t know any of that. But then, how could he?
With these thoughts in my head, I began to feel like the victim of a hit and run. The man’s anger had hit me, and I felt hurt. I felt misunderstood. I felt like I had been wronged.
And then, in the midst of all these thoughts, the question suddenly occurred to me: If that man didn’t know me, what did I know about him?
Answer: practically nothing.
All I knew, was that he was someone who was easily angered. All I knew, was that he took things personally and that for some reason he wanted to get where he was going very, very, fast.
This reasoning led to my third and final response: compassion.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I began to feel sorry for the other driver. I began to wonder what was going on in his vehicle and his life to make him act that way. I began to wonder what thoughts were going through his head.
Because, something definitely was.
Something is definitely going on in everyone’s life and in everyone’s head to make them behave the way they do. Every person has a story, but we are not always privy to it. We do not always take the time to imagine or even consider it.
Driving, in this sense, is an appropriate metaphor for life. We are all going somewhere, and we all experience different road blocks and challenges along the way. At different moments, we all face engine trouble, flat tires, and empty gas tanks. We all have to deal with our own assortment of collisions and crashes. We all have to pull over to the curb once in a while to catch our breath.
Certainly, the metaphor of transportation is especially appropriate when it comes to our thoughts. Where our minds go, our feelings often follow. When we become the center of our own thought routes, we inevitably become jammed by unpleasant emotions like anger, entitlement, jealousy, bitterness, and resentment. To get things moving, we need to exercise our imaginations and keep an eye on what is happening in the cars next to us.
If we do, road rage can actually turn into road realizations.
Mine was that I was not angry with that man in the white van after all.
Mine was that I hoped that whatever was negatively coloring his day and jamming his thoughts would not go on doing so.
My wish for him, and for all of us, is that we would experience more road realizations instead of rage.
Remember, there is a lot of power in the fingers we point.