This subject has been in the back of my mind for sometime, regarding – what is often called – Road Rage, and how easy it is for some people to become a different personality in the car.
I remember a cartoon Disney created many years ago, where Goofy was strolling down the street, relaxed, friendly and cheerful to everyone he passed, until he got in his car. Once in the car, he became a snarling monster, screeching passed everyone on the road, shouting and cursing as he did so. This cartoon is still just as relevant today, maybe more so; so what’s going on here?
First we may be affected by getting into our own little metal box, our safe environment from which we are able to curse and swear at all outside it. You will notice it is rarely (if ever) those inside the car with us who we attack in the same way as we do to the other little boxes. It’s a lot like the dodgems at the fairground, except now we are actually trying to get somewhere. There is indeed a winner and a loser, at every junction and every set of lights.
But who is the competition?
Have you noticed that people tend to avoid eye contact with other drivers? It’s as if there’s nothing personal in any of this. It’s ‘my’ car against that car. My metal box against that metal box.
If you recognise yourself in the above, I would like to ask, have you ever looked over at the driver of the car you were about to fight with to get in front, as they were driving slowly or erratically, to see a young girl (or the equivalent innocent figure) who seemed lost, confused, or was just a new driver who was not confident? Did you suddenly remember that it was actually a fellow human being you were competing with, with their fears, feelings and emotions, and did you feel a little guilty – possibly even backing down to let them have right of way? You may not have done this, but it can happen.
On the flip side, it seems we are more likely to want to stop someone cutting in if they have demonstrated an aggressive intention to get in front of us, as opposed to someone who is just in the wrong lane (or where two lanes go in to one) and they are asking nicely, waiting patiently to be allowed in.
You see, it’s not always about being first. It’s often about whether we remember there is a human being in that car, and one who is being patient and wishing us no harm.
Likewise, if you try, in an aggressive manner, to overtake and get in front of someone, or a few cars, to push your way right to the front, there is every chance the people you are pushing in front of will react to your aggression with similar aggression. But, if you were in a queue to go in to one lane, for example, and people had joined the queue on the left (in England) and were not using the lane on the right (Brits seem to like queuing), instead of trying to get right to the front by speeding down the empty lane, if you were to slowly edge you way, indicating to go in as you went along the line, in a non-aggressive manner, not trying to get to the very front, there is a very good chance that you will be allowed in without a fight, simply because you are not being overtly aggressive. Of course the first person may not let you in, but that’s ok, because you are not being aggressive. If the person behind them sees you not being aggressive, and has seen how you drove slowly up in a nice manner, there is every chance they will let you in. Ok, you won’t be right at the very front, but you will be much further up than if you had joined the long queue, and you won’t have ruffled anyone’s feathers either – especially not your own (and don’t forget to thank them for letting you in).
We have seen elsewhere that this is a world of reflection, and driving in the car is no different. I write this page now because last week I had an experience in the car with another driver who was being aggressive: I had reached a mini roundabout, waited for a van to come across towards me and knew it was safe for me to go straight across. However, there was a car on my right waiting to turn right who could not go as the van was in the way, but did not like my being able to get through; and hooted me (but he was still at the line and had not moved). As I pulled away I ‘flipped a sign’, telling him to back-off, but he only got closer behind me and followed me into the public car park. He then got out of his car, banged on my window and demanded that I got out. I told him to stop being an idiot (or words to that effect), at which point he saw the cameras pointed in our direction, got back in his car, and drove away.
The next day I was told by a colleague that, on the way home, he had witnessed a chap who had been hooted for barging through the traffic, get out of his car, walk round and reached through the window of the car that had hooted him, and punched the driver in the face.
Now, there is a moral to these two stories.
In the first, I had reacted to someone being aggressive by hooting me, by making a sign (though he had initially reacted to my being able to slip through where he could not); and he had wanted to fight about it. In the second, it was the driver who had been hooted that wanted to fight about it, after he had pushed in front of somebody.
Some people are aggressive and are of a type that wants to get physical. We all know that. So how do we avoid getting evolved in a physical situation, when it can happen so easily? How do we stop being aggressive in the car, as if a switch is flipped? And how do we stop reacting to others who are demonstrating aggression towards us?
I am going to talk about making oneself into The Emotion Police.
Let’s say you see someone trying to cut in, so you try to stop them. You have made yourself Judge, Jury and Executioner by doing so (probably avoiding eye contact at the time – in an attempt to forget that there’s a person in the car, and hoping they will forget that you are a person too). That is of course going to annoy them. You may feel safe in your car, but they may still follow you and try to attack you later; or hit you through the window when you next stop; or attack your car.
So, is it worth it? If they are aggressive, then they will get their comeuppance in due course. Letting a car in is not going to do you too much harm, but having the emotional stirring inside, and possibly getting caught in a physical fight, could well do. Is it worth it?
Are they worth the disturbance you could feel inside as you try to stop them cutting in, and the sense of loss you later feel if you did successfully stop them and they then get passed you at the next lights? The fight goes on. Are they worth the hassle, or the potential consequences, of you fighting for your spot in the queue and your need to react to their aggression?
The situation outside each and every moment is a reflection of a deeper truth inside, and the aggression experienced from another is a reflection of one’s own state within. My advice is to do what you can to rise above it and not to get involved, whatever life throws at you from outside. You will seem to fail at times, because life pushes us to the limits, but persevere. That is the game.
…And the game often ends in tears…