A Final Thought: Road Rage


By Mitch Allen

In the early 2000s, when my youngest daughter turned 15 and a half and received her Ohio BMV learner’s permit, the task of teaching her to drive fell to me. Not only had I successfully taught her older sister, I had also learned driving from my own father: “To make sure you’re in the center of your lane, line up the hood ornament with the right side of the road,” he had instructed.

So with my entire family in our big Buick Electra 225 and the 15-year-old me behind the wheel, I drove the 45 minutes from our home in Columbus, Georgia, to Auburn, Alabama, the entire time ignoring the road in front of me and keeping the hood ornament aligned with the edge of the pavement. Arriving in Auburn—my shirt drenched with sweat from the intense concentration­­—I told father how I had successfully made the trip. “No! Don’t do that!” he cried. “That’s not what I meant!”

When teaching someone to control a 4,300-pound, 370 hp killing machine you should choose your words carefully.

As my daughter buckled herself into the driver’s seat for the first time, I paused and initiated the following conversation:

“Before we get started, darlin’, I want you to know something.”

“What?” my daughter replied.

“I am about to give you a bunch of new reasons to hate people.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are a lot of rules when it comes to driving, and people around you are constantly breaking those rules. This doesn’t bother you now because you don’t know what the rules are. But once you learn them, the behavior of other drivers may make you angry. I just want you to know that.”

“Okay, Dad. Whatever. Let’s just go!”

Behind the wheel three days later, my daughter yelled, “Oh, my God! Did you see that? That guy just cut me off and he didn’t even use his blinker. What a jerk!

I turned to her, whispering, “And so it begins.”

Anger is often the result of seeing others do publicly what we, too, are capable of, yet we deny that capability in ourselves. Many years ago when I was a smoker, I would angrily judge people who threw their cigarette butts out of their car windows. Of course I did that, too, sometimes, but not when anyone could see me do it.

This is largely what Shakespeare meant when he wrote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

A consultant once told me that when someone’s behavior is making us angry, we should pause and say to ourselves, “That person isn’t doing anything that I haven’t done or could do.” By admitting that we, too, are a “sinner”—capable of horrible things—we can judge the behavior of others rather than the person. As a result, anger subsides and compassion arises.

This idea is summed up well by the phrase, “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.”

Even today I can misjudge the speed of a fellow motorist and inadvertently cut them off in traffic. While most people forgive me quickly enough, the occasional pickup truck will tailgate me for a few miles before passing me, blowing his horn, and giving me the finger (my apologies to pickup truck drivers for the generalization).

Such behavior doesn’t bother me much anymore. I just smile and wave, comfortable in the knowledge that deep down I’m just an Alabama redneck who could easily chase this guy down and shoot out his tires.

In the late 1980s when my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack, I was driving home from the hospital at night when a pair of headlights began tailgating me closely. Perhaps still in the anger stage of grief, I slammed on the brakes. The driver stopped in time, but continued to follow me all the way to my parents’ house, parking behind me menacingly in the driveway. Filled with adrenalin, I jumped out of the car to face my foe who turned out to be my older brother, Michael, also coming home from the hospital.

I was ashamed and embarrassed, but my brother hadn’t even noticed that I’d intentionally tried to cause him to crash. I’m not sure he thought me capable of such a thing. Instead, we hugged, cried and shared our mutual grief and disbelief that our grandfather “Coky” was gone.

I lost my brother in 2010, so today I try to look for him in others, even in those who lay on their horn and give me the finger.

Yes, especially those.


Categories: Smart Living