“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” (Dalai Lama)
Many years ago I was driving home in heavy afternoon commute traffic. As I approached my exit and switched on my turn signal to change lanes, the car next to me in the lane I wanted to move into sped up, preventing me from moving into the exit lane. I slowed down to let him get ahead and he slowed down. I slowed down some more and he slowed down some more. I looked over at him and he was looking over at me—and laughing. I sped up, and—you guessed it—he sped up. This went on for a bit longer. He continued to laugh as he continued to block my ability to change lanes. As I passed my exit, he waved, and for the first and only time in my life, I made a rude—but expressive—hand gesture.
I fumed as I drove to the next exit and made my way back to the highway to return in the other direction. What a jerk! Why’d he pick me? Where’s a cop when you need one? I also thought about the hand gesture I had made. I assumed it would make me feel better, but it didn’t. By saluting him as I had, I sank nearly to his level. He got the reaction he wanted, and I acted in a way I considered crude.
I’m not going to say he wasn’t a jerk. He was a colossal jerk. I imagine this was a trick he’d performed before, probably only with women driving alone … certainly not burly guys driving 4X4 trucks with gun racks. What kind of a person does that, and, for heaven’s sake, why? But just because he was a jerk, there’s no reason why I needed to be one. If, indeed, making a lewd gesture had made me feel better, then okay, go for it—no harm, no foul—but the act diminished me. It did, however, teach me something important: even under great provocation, that’s not who I want to be.
I’ve often wondered if I had the experience to do over—and I’d rather not, thank you, to any Seattle drivers who may be reading this and know what color Subaru I drive—what would I like my response to have been?
Perhaps if I had smiled and waved he might have had a momentary panic that he was perpetrating this nasty trick on an acquaintance, a friend, or—worse yet—one of his mother’s friends. That might have given him just enough of a pause that he would have stopped being a jerk long enough for me to change lanes. Maybe if I’d blown him a kiss….
Kindness is always a choice, as is unkindness. Every time we choose how we will respond in an emotion-charged situation, we choose what sort of a person we are going to be. And the more times we choose, the more we reinforce who we are. Eventually, maybe, we get to a point where we no longer need to choose—we know who we are and who we have become—and we act out of that now-innate knowledge. If I ever get to that point, I hope I will have chosen kindness at every opportunity. That, I think, is a life well-lived.
“A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” (Charles H. Spurgeon)
Donna, you speak my language!! It’s easy when it’s easy, and usually harder when it counts! 😣
A friend reminded me once how to be gentle and forgiving to myself when I behave less well than I aspire. She said don’t bother judging the straying; rather, celebrate the return! We will always have opportunities to practice. It’s probably not even helpful to keep score, either–just aim for our highest selves at all times and trust that we will land where we land due to many factors at play. As long as we give our best effort in each instance, what else can we ask of ourselves?
I like that, Catherine: “Celebrate the return.” How wise, and how boring we all would be if we never had to wrestle with our less than ideal inclinations … and sometimes lose. For me the fallback when I behave questionably is always “Look for the lesson.” I figure I’ve had a boatload of lessons over the years, and they’ve led me to this desk, this laptop, and this wise community of kind people. It’s all good. Thanks!
Hi Donna! It’s been crazy, sorry for the delayed response… Your posts always teach me something new, and also reinforce something I know already. It’s the best kind of learning! 🙂
Yes, driving is a challenge to kindness! I don’t imagine blowing that fellow a kiss would have helped, and I doubt you could have done it in the spirit of kindness! He would have relished the attention. Better to ignore. Getting behind the wheel of a car does funny things to us and people feel free to behave in ways they wouldn’t dare face-to-face. I agree with you, it’s not good to react with equal rudeness. It’s better to remember our values, and not let the fact we are behind a steering-wheel, at the controls, make us into monsters.
You are so right, Carol. There’s something about getting behind the wheel that unleashes the monster in us. Maybe cars should come with a bell that reminds us not only to buckle our seatbelts but also to suspend our judgments and tuck our inner gremlin in the back-seat. Thanks for your great comment.
This guy may have thought he was hilarious, and yes, he was obviously a jerk, but above all, he was/is a grave danger to you and everyone else on the road. A kind gesture (vs. a rude one) is highly unlikely change that. And I think he DOES deserve judging, preferably in court. There should be a way to report that guy and others like him (all cars equipped with dashboard cameras? Hoo boy, there’s a big, fat can-of-worms issue!) — that would lead to a heavy fine, at the very least. Repeated violations, license revoked. Just like a DUI, only a DWB (Driving Without Brains) or DWS (Driving While Sociopathic.)
I understand the point of your thoughtful (as ever) blog, Donna, and agree that this is certainly an all-too-familiar scenario in which we can recognize that we have the choice to act as the kind person we want to be, despite our knee-jerk reactions to jerks. And it’s conceivable that this guy’s on-road behavior may (eventually) be modified by kindness he receives from others (me/us) in his everyday, off-road encounters. But I just can’t get past the concrete reality of this anecdote. People die when games like this are played on a freeway with thousands of tons of metal hurtling at 65 mph within just a few feet of each other. That’s not just jerky behavior, it’s criminal.
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Totally agree, Kris. I find no redeeming quality in this guy. There are some people who are complete jerks and probably always will be. And you’re absolutely right about the danger of drivers like him on the road—it is criminal (and why is there never a patrolman around—how I would have loved to see him pulled over). Even if I could have sent a kind-appearing gesture his way, my intention would not have been kindness, but only to give him pause that maybe he had chosen to perpetrate this on someone who knew him and would see what a creep he was—rather than an anonymous coward who pulls stupid stunts. I love your idea of citing people for DWB—how much lighter traffic on the roads would be if we could suspend the license of everyone who is Driving Without Brains! Thank you so much for your very thoughtful—and heartfelt—comment.
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