It can happen to anybody, maybe even you. Road rage. That ugly beast we can become on the road, and the zombie partner that forms it; if you slip into one, you’ll flip into the other. Let’s take a minute for some road rage reflection.
Imagine if, on a weekday morning, you came out of the house to start your daily commute and found this note on your windscreen.
“To the driver of this vehicle,
You have cut me off twice now, both times I don’t think you saw me at all, even though you came so close and put us both in danger. If you cannot recall the incidents with absolute clarity, then any excuse you think you have is invalid.
Driving is a privilege not a right. Please take this opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the road rules and your understanding of courtesy, and take care to apply them both.
Please don’t make it a third time.”
If that note would give you reason to pause and mentally scroll through memories and evaluate your possible guilt or culpability then you could be someone with an opportunity to change your habits and values when behind the wheel.
Perhaps your opportunity is instead in your habits dealing with shop staff, workers from a different team at your job, the staff who operate the public transport you use, the other people buying groceries at the store, fellow pedestrians, it goes on and on. We have so many interactions every day with so many different people who all have their own story in which they are the central character. For each of us, these are habitual interactions because we live in a world brimming over with people. We have become functions to each other, not fellows, not real people. Functions, meatbots.
Do you ever criticise people who seem continually clenched around their gadget screen or asleep at the wheel or pushing others out of the way in queues? I know I have. It doesn’t feel like enough to try breaking the cycle when those other people then take advantage of you for being nice. We’re all afraid of someone taking advantage of us. I wish I had a moment of enlightenment for every time I’ve been told to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get a thicker skin’.
Actually, when people tell me this I feel more hurt (even fundamentally neglected or undervalued). After all, why can’t other people just be nicer? Why am I the one who’s ‘wrong’? The same types of folk who have no compunction about telling others to ‘toughen up’ seem to never be willing to similarly command others to “be less of an arsehole”. Just sayin.
A wise teacher recently told me that every time I complain about others’ behaviours I am a in fact setting myself back significantly. “Oh great” I thought, “wrong again! Wrong for being too soft, wrong for wanting the world to be more pleasant and now wrong for complaining when others are rude or mean.” That little story I just told to myself there, that was the key to figuring out what he really meant by what he said.
Here are his words:
See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
I did not want to hear that.
I tried to argue with it. The very first way was by making up that little story above – exaggerating how I am always being made to be wrong – a little melodrama with me as the swooning star. I thought about it every way you can. For weeks. But that’s the trouble with hearing something true, once you know it your life truly changes. So it has been for me as I digest this insight. All else is indeed madness. Leave or accept. Act where you can.
In trying to come to terms with this, I stumbled over this little twist on an old favourite “the grass is always greener where you water it”, fresh enough for me to reflect on my own habits of envy, and to remember the “which wolf you feed” story) and these both made a bridge for me into the key idea that through habit I was allowing a self-identification as a victim in all kinds of realms of daily life. Perhaps that’s another part of road rage – there is a desire to take action against an unfairness or wrong action – and yet violent response outside of building and understanding context and consequence is feeding the wrong wolf, watering the weeds.
In a moment of rage we can be lost to our stories and triggered into moving far from our center. It can feel like blacking out, like being possessed. Inside that unconsciousness we are simply reacting, not making choices. If you feel that you’re in a rut in trying to get positive patterns started in your life then look for places in which you’re complaining about something rather than acting to generate the change that you want. Look with honesty in how you’re describing the story of your situation to yourself and ask if you’re truly supporting the person you want to be or simply enduring the habits you used to water. Imagine forgetting what useless, impotent rage feels like. I think that sounds wonderful, let’s try together.