Recently I started pretending that everyone else in the rush hour is a living creature like me. What if they were all as complex and sensitive as I 1? What was I doing up before that?: Looking at the hard edges of cars, the hard surface ahead, and the fastest route.
I was aggressively defending my way. The defensive attitude has consequences. If anger can be seen as self-assertion and boundary protection 2, then self-assertion and boundary protection may induce anger. This has been my experience. When I saw a video online of a woman ranting in road rage, I was surprised that the comments said how crazy she must be. I saw myself in her.
Being wrapped up in the road ahead, in MY WAY, and the obstructions to MY WAY had a glorious narcotic glow. Owning the road enlarged my self of myself. My haste made the present moment urgent and hot. My compulsion for punctuality made my greed virtuous: “I have an appointment. I don’t want MY FRIEND to have to wait”. The appointments or friends of others were only cameos in my story. Like henchmen in a martial arts movie, they only existed to be dismissed serially and en masse. While anger can be an uncomfortable emotion, the sense of justified rage is intoxicating.
I could argue that one justification for aggression is the physical danger of cycling amongst hazards. And from an evolutionary perspective it is true that an outburst of anger may provide an energy spike or a social warning to avert collision. But it seems equally true that an unrecognised wave of inner rigorousness SEEKS the obstacle to release the rage. In other words, the event isn’t releasing the my anger; I am loaded with anger in search of an event to justify it’s release, and a person to punish. Given the chaotic ballet of the roads, a target can soon be found.
The impetus to change wasn’t my anger, but its after story. A pleasurable explosion of rage was left behind by the time and energy spent checking and rechecking my justifications. In my insecurity I would drag other people into the story, “So, I was coming up to the junction and… “. Was it all worth it? So began my experiment with kindness. I was tired of carrying the trivial injustices of imperfect beings 3.
The results have surprised me. I leave the house looking for people, not hard objects. I assume that they are like me; those people in the cars, those people walking. I assume that their business is as important to them as mine is to me. Suddenly, it’s not MY way. It’s OUR way, and WE are all sharing it, as WE all have somewhere to go. These people, they share the street with me. How kind of them 4.
There are still dangers. But as I am not not so busy owning the street, I am not so aggressively seeking them out. And as I recognise other people, I recognise their journey, and make way for them. And when rage rises in me, I am more aware of MY rage, and the benefit for me in letting it pass. Thank you for sharing the road with me. I hope you get there safe.
Imagine if suffering were real.
Imagine if those old people were afraid of death.
What if the midget or the girl with one arm
really felt pain? Imagine how impossible it would be
to live if some people were
alone and afraid all their lives.
- ‘Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence’, Rollo May, 1972.
- Two Monks and a Woman.
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.
Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
- This does make me feel as if I recapture Crocodile Dundee’s naivety; “Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. Yeah, New York must be the friendliest place on earth!”. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Crocodile_Dundee