I saw an encounter on the road today. Not atypical, actually. But since I was off to the side, wasn't driving and could give it my full attention, I saw it more fully than I might otherwise have done. The drop off process at my kids' school is, well, it's pretty much a "drive where you can, drop off when you can, get back into traffic when possible" kind of process. Since there are no buses out here, it is pretty crazy actually. Often there end up being three lanes of cars in the one lane, each dropping off kids in the middle of the road, while others are trying to get out and back into traffic. To say it's not orchestrated well would be a huge understatement. Truly, I don't think there have been any attempts at orchestration at all. It's an insane free-for-all and, inevitably, there are conflicts in this process. It's amazing that no kids have been hit through this so far. And I find myself holding my breath each day as I watch Jonah try to get out of the car and into the school, just praying that he, and all the other kids, will actually make it. So this morning, no surprise, a conflict arose. Without trying to go into details about a very confused and confusing situation, let's just say that two of the three lanes of cars (which were actually all in one lane) had dropped off kids at the same time, and both where trying to pull back into the one lane at the same exact time. They almost collided, but didn't. What was interesting to me though was that one of the drivers became irate, started screaming his head off, calling the other driver an idiot and other names I choose not to print here, and eventually gunned his car in rage, almost hitting two or three other cars as well as an older man trying to walk into the school, and squealed off cursing the whole way.
I thought about how we choose what we contribute to the world and that this morning that driver contributed anger, hurt, and pain rather than grace, compassion and patience.
I thought about the other driver and prayed that being yelled at like that did not ruin her day.
I thought about the fact that none of us know what either of those drivers had and were experiencing this morning, this week, this month or this year and that we therefore just don't know what led up to that rage, nor how it affected both once it was expressed.
I thought about how we try to teach our kids to control their rage reactions by using words - not attacking words, but good words, words that tell how we are feeling rather than words that attack the other. And yet sometimes we fail to model that for our children, and some even seem to grow up without learning these lessons for themselves.
But mostly, I found myself thinking about anger, about rage. What is it in those moments that causes us to forget the humanity of the other person? What is it about being in our cars that allows us to classify all the other drivers as either maniacs (those who drive faster and wilder than we do), or idiots (those who drive more slowly and cautiously than we do)? My guess is that if I were to ask that angry driver if he ever made mistakes in his car he would have to agree that of course he did. Does that then make him an idiot? No, it makes him a person who is human, as we all are. Why, then, are we unable to have compassion for other drivers who make errors in their cars? More to the point in this situation, why are we unwilling or unable to see our own contributions to difficult driving situations? Both cars were trying to get through a tough situation. Both cars failed to look at the other before pulling out. One was not at fault. BOTH were. And yet, one was able to own her part. One was not. Why? Why is it so hard to just admit we make mistakes too? And then, under it all, why do situations like this cause rage at all? Maybe he was afraid for a moment of his car being hit and that fear became anger. But many times people are rude, angry, rageful in their cars when there is no danger to either body or property. And then I wonder, why is anger our first and strongest reaction in those situations? The other person was not trying to hurt us. The other person was not intentionally making errors or was not intentionally the person who was in the wrong place when we made an error. Rage just seems like the American "go to" feeling right now, especially in our cars.
So, here is my lecture for the world this day:
Rage is dangerous. And I think we would do well to work towards a different "go to" feeling.
The expression of that rage in these childish ways is unhelpful. We would do better to go back to kindergarten lessons. Take a breath. Step back. And then, use your words productively; "I feel x when you do y because of z".
We really do choose how we contribute to our world each day, and it would be good to strive to contribute more compassion, grace, patience and understanding. We seem to be in short supply as a world lately. It would be good to practice these and strive in all things to contribute more of these positive things to those around us.
When we are struggling to do that, we need to try to remember that the other person is human. We don't know what they are going through this day. And chances are, if there is that much anger, they are having a hard time of it. We can strive therefore to have compassion for them.
People in their cars are still people. They are not all "maniacs" and "idiots". They are people. Others on the journey. Imperfect. But trying. That person you are looking at could be your mother, or your brother, or your future spouse. Try to remember that.