The Zen Lessons Of Road Rage

Back in October of last year, I read a message board thread titled What Causes Road Rage? …things I hate on the road!

DeanCollins’ response really stuck with me (I’ve edited some of the spelling):

October-9th-2006, 02:29 AM

It starts when the aggressive driver fails to leave early enough to arrive at his/her destination on time, compounded by their unrealistic expectations about making it through traffic lights and being able to drive at a certain speed. They become further aggravated with their expectations that other drivers will behave in a certain manner especially when the aggressive driver tries to influence them. When the other drivers don’t respond to the input, they take it as a personal attack and feel the need to retaliate. These hostilities will escalate exponentially when confronted by another aggressive driver. These are control/out of control issues that cause these aggressive drivers to lack the patience to deal with varying traffic conditions and other driver’s behavior.The remedies are simple. Leave plenty of time for your trip. Expect traffic delays and red lights (it happens every day). Don’t have expectations about other drivers. Don’t try and influence the other drivers by making eye contact, hand gestures, talking, tailgating, retaliating etc…. these are offensive acts that can trigger a defensive act, such as someone firing a gun at you (thousands of people carrying these days). The life you save may be your own.

Dean smacked me in the face by pointing out some of the things that I was doing when I drove. I hadn’t been aware that I felt other people where out to make me late or that the municipality had set up their traffic light system to make sure the lights stopped me every now and then.

Very soon after reading his post an answer to the question “why won’t they get out of my way?” came to me for the first time. They weren’t getting out of my way because they didn’t have anywhere to go, there was only one lane and they had cars in front of them. I don’t drive a fire truck so they don’t have to get out of my way.

So I started giving myself more time to get to where I was going so I could stop needing people to get out of my way just so I could be on time. This really changed my driving environment. It stopped being me against all these other cars and it started being me driving my car. You can imagine how that capped the rage and hostility I felt. It turned out that I had been wrong about other drivers all along. Most of them don’t even consider me in their drive, they see my car and want to avoid hitting it, that’s as far as it goes.

Dean also made me aware that I pick up on other drivers’ intentions when I drive. Most people drive with the intention of getting to their destination safely. These people are easy to identify because you don’t even notice them. They are inside the cars that are driving. The drivers’ whose intention is to get to where they are going faster than what is safe are equally easy to identify, they are the people who are driving the cars. We give them qualities and characteristics, personalities and lives and the fact that we are aware of them at all is an indication that we’ve picked up on something abnormal about their driving.

I’ve learned to put this information to good use to improve my happiness by eliminating some of the manufactured stress associated with driving. There are only two things aggressive drivers want from other drivers. First off, they want them to get out of their way. If they can’t have that then they want to get into an aggressive exchange with a non-compliant driver. Only one of these opinions is reasonable enough for me to go along with so if they want around me and I can make it easier for them I’ll do it. I don’t pull over and stop, the way I would for a cop or an ambulance, but I’ll give them room if they want to pass me, change lanes if it will open a gap for them or wave them by if it’s not going to cause anyone else hardship. Once they pass me I don’t have to think about them anymore. I’ve also dramatically reduced the likelihood that they’ll crash into the back of me because of their tailgating or cause an accident that I’ll be involved it.

Some say that I shouldn’t reward their maladaptive behavior. That letting them get their way will only embolden them but I prefer to look at it as rewarding my pragmatic behavior. I don’t need to invest the cognitive energy to think about them and, frankly, I don’t think they are worth spending any energy on. I don’t know them so I don’t care if they have personality issues that manifest themselves in road rage. I’ll let someone else give them the civics lesson in the form of a beating or a gunshot because I’m in my car trying to get somewhere.

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