Ending Road Rage
If you’ve ever watched an online video channel, chances are you’ve come across a video of a road rage incident. You see it on the nightly news, in pop culture commentary, and in your local community. The videos range from shouting and flipping drivers off, to deadly intentional vehicular assaults and shootings. Why is this? Where did all this rage come from? It is hard to define in any exact terms. I’m sure the reasons are as varied as ourselves.
One thing is for sure. It has got to stop.
Road rage is typically borne out of aggressive driving habits and the mindset that we are separate and in competition with all other drivers on the road. We feel slighted by the actions of another driver and feel the need to take revenge. We feel we are justified in “straightening out” the other driver. Chances are we have all experienced those feelings while on the road. Hopefully we did not act on them.
Young people are especially susceptible to road rage, so it seems appropriate that diffusing the initial feelings that are the beginning of road rage should be taught in driver education programs. Half of all drivers who are on the receiving end of road rage behavior will react with the same vitriol if not worse, and that number is only increasing.
It is dangerous enough to drive your car on a busy interstate at speeds north of fifty miles an hour without having the additional threat of raging drivers creating an even more dangerous driving environment.
So, what would be a good first step. Well...it all begins with you. You have to learn to let it go. If you perceive someone has done you wrong on the road by cutting you off or not letting you into their lane, feel that initial feeling then take a deep breath and consciously let it go. You’re not only making your own life better and more serene, but you are heading of a possible escalation of road rage. Who knows, maybe the other driver is having a bad day, maybe a death in the family, or they are driving to the emergency room with an injured child. Give them the benefit of the doubt and you will give yourself the gift of serenity for the rest of the drive. Try it! You’ll find yourself smiling silently and thinking about it next time a similar situation arises.
When someone comes after you with road rage it is best to quickly deescalate the situation by either letting them vent and moving on, or mouthing an apology. Believe me, I know how hard it is to resist that natural impulse to give it back to them twice as hard. In the end it serves no one...especially your higher self. Even if you feel you did nothing wrong, it is far more noble to take the high road and be the bigger person. The more you practice this in your driving, the better you will feel about yourself as a person, and you will have become a much safer driver for all of society. Isn’t that reward enough?
Another way to head off potential road rage feelings is to de-stress your driving experience. That is what this book is all about. When you bring about an environment of calm and serenity inside your car it is much harder to fail to recognize the beginning feelings of road rage and nip those feelings in the bud. If you’re driving on a busy street, late, and stressed, you are a prime candidate to easily slip into a road rage altercation. If you realize this when you are confronted with a raging driver you will be able to understand how unfortunate that poor person is. Observe their behavior and it will allow you to understand that those feelings are toxic and dangerous and you have no need for them in your life, let alone your driving.
A key ingredient for a safer, calmer driving experience is relaxation. Diminishing stress and deactivating old reactive patterns when practicing mindful driving can really change not only your driving experience, but your living experience. The tools we put into practice in the car make their way into life outside your vehicle to. How? Experience! When you find out that you can have that serene feeling of being less stressed and have an overall calmer demeanor while practicing your driving, you will naturally seek out that same serenity when in the outside world. This is one of the secrets to the practice. As it manifests itself in your experiential makeup, you will notice a use for it in all aspects of your life. What a blessing it can be!
I am not suggesting that you give up driving if you experience road rage, Just that you learn how to drive differently. How differently is up to you and your personal set of beliefs of how these ideas and exercises can change your life for the better. Maybe one single change in the way you think about yourself behind the wheel can make your life a few percentage points better. But isn’t that totally worth the effort?
If you can learn to be present in the moment while driving, any type of rage will not have a chance to even get started. When we are centered in the present moment awareness of the experience we become calm, compassionate drivers. This takes deliberate effort and practice. We can learn how to use the experience of driving our car to connect with our higher self in the present moment.
By changing the way you connect with the present moment you will not only enrich your driving experience, but through that experience enrich your life outside of your car.
Let me give you one quick example.
One of the best decisions I ever made was to start driving with a sense of compassion towards other drives...particularly the ones that I considered bad drivers. No lane change signal, not moving out of the passing lane while going slower than everyone else, waiting till the last minute to squeeze into the single lane in a construction zone. You know the type. The ones I usually yelled at, flipped off, and honked at.
So, one day I decided to try and be cooperative and courteous to especially those wretched souls of the road...and guess what? It literally made me laugh out loud! That’s right, full on LOL! I was only on the highway about two minutes when I spotted in my rear view mirror a car coming up on my right at a high rate of speed. I noticed that the car in front of him (which was next to me) was going at about the same speed as me. He came up behind that car and was riding his bumper so I knew he really must be in a hurry. I thought to myself...the old me would have boxed this joker in and reveled in the fact that he was getting payback for being an unsafe jerk. Would that have made for a safer situation...no. It actually would have made for a more dangerous one. But I thought about what I would feel. I would get that sense of satisfaction that I was putting a jerk in his place. But I know that deep down it puts me in the same place as that jerk. What if he was late to pick up his child at school? What if he was on his way to help his sick mother who had fallen (and couldn’t get up)?
Although I would never know his reason for being in a hurry, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and actually help him on his way. I slowed down and dropped back in my lane giving him a clear shot to pass and be on his way. He immediately took the shot and sped past the car that was in front of him. What did it cost me? Nothing.
As he shot past me I looked over and nodded to him. He didn’t even look over at me. It made me smile at first. Then, I started laughing. It felt so strange to actually help someone pass me and be on their way. Someone I didn’t know and probably never would. Someone whose circumstances I would never realize and really didn’t even care to know. As I laughed I realized that it actually felt really good to be in control of the situation and help someone else out.
Helping people feels good! Even if it might be someone who is just an aggressive driver or a jerk on the road. I definitely helped out the driver in front of him. I alleviated the danger of having a car riding his back bumper. I was a hero of the road. So simple and so entertaining for myself. It felt like a win/win!
Oddly enough I carried that feeling to the grocery store with me as I got out of my car and grabbed a cart. I took one from the cart return and walked it back into the store. Normally I would have walked right past those carts. It wasn’t my job to bring them back in. That’s what my purchase money goes for. But with my new found feeling of cooperation I thought...it’s one less cart for the high school kid who’s working here part time to deal with, and I’m going that way anyway. And guess what? It felt good. Only to me. and only right then. But isn’t that what life really is? One moment at a time? Why not make that moment the best moment I can. Simple things. Right?
I walked into the store feeling good when I might have walked in feeling tense, or bored, or even aggravated by the behavior of the driver I had just encountered on the highway. It felt good to cooperate with the world. It is my hope that you too can feel just a little bit better, a little more at ease, and a little more compassionate. Learn to drive in a better way and you can learn to live a little bit better too. You have nothing to lose and the upside is pretty darn good...why not give it a try.
To learn how to put a driving meditation practice into action, read Solan McClean's "Learning to Drive into the Now:PRND" a practical guide to developing and maintaining a Mindfulness Driving Meditation practice.