Q: I was driving the other day and someone cut me off. When I honked my horn, they shook their hands at me like it was my fault. Why are people so hateful when it comes to driving?
A: Okay, step back a minute. Your question is about hateful drivers, yet you chose to honk at the person cutting you off. I know, I know, they cut you off, but you didn’t have to honk. You could have just kept driving. It’s one thing to defend yourself by honking when someone’s doing something that could hurt you (like about to smash into you), but it doesn’t sound like that in this case.
It sounds like another one of those Fargo-Moorhead traffic days. I used to think that people in this area were bad drivers, then I went to Naples, Florida. Man, are those people bad drivers! Screaming past at 60 miles an hour, they run red lights even five seconds after they’ve turned red. It’s scary. Minneapolis isn’t much better; try merging on or off with people tailgating each other going 70 mph.
Deep breath. I read somewhere that if you want to really see if a person is spiritual, get in the car and watch how they drive. The thought is that if a person is spiritual, they will show that same spirituality driving as they do when they’re not driving. Whoopsies – guilty! Even thinking about that while I’m driving doesn’t help sometimes, if I’m already crabby, or late, or tired. I’m not very spiritual. I admit it. Who IS a spiritual driver? My husband. The only time I have ever seen him get angry was when someone cut him off, almost hitting us. The guy flipped US off (which prompted an impromptu discussion with our then 5-year-old on the definitions of different hand gestures – thanks, Mr. Driver).
My enlightened husband said, “Gees, he flips us off when he almost hits us. That makes me mad.” He said it just like that – he didn’t even raise his voice (I would’ve typed it all in caps if he’d screamed). He just doesn’t get angry while driving. He’s defensive. If someone’s doing something stupid on the interstate, he backs off and lets them pass him and get far ahead. Me? I may be seen speeding up to not let someone in (if they’re passing on the right), or matching speeds to not let someone in (if they know a lane is ending and still try to zip in it to get in front of me). I’m cringing while I’m typing because I appear to be one of those hateful drivers you’re talking about, and I think I am sometimes.
But I think EVERYONE is a hateful driver sometimes. We just have too much ‘stuff’ going on in our lives. We’re busy, running all over town, doing errands we probably don’t want to do. We’re sitting in our cars waiting for our kids to get out of school, going grocery shopping, going going going, when what we might rather be doing is relaxing at home, or coffeeing with friends (next week, Deb?) or just about anything other than wasting our precious time in a car.
We probably transfer all of our resentments INTO our driving, then blame the other drivers. I observed something really funny the other week. When I was walking, I noticed that most cars weren’t respectful of me, cutting me off in the crosswalk, not seeing me. “Those darned cars,” I thought. But then I noticed what I was thinking when I saw a pedestrian walking across the street – “gees, those stupid people, they’re walking so slowly. Go, already!”
To top it off, I was in a really good mood one day, so my driving was slow and relaxed. I was being tailgated. “Get off my butt,” I thought, “what’s your rush?” But the next day I was in a hurry, and no matter how fast the person in front of me was going, it wasn’t fast enough. “GET GOING!” I thought. “Some of us have places to be!” Not knowing where I was going one day, I had to slow down at every intersection to check the street name. Of course I did! But then someone in front of me did that. My thought? “Gees – get off the road if you don’t know where you’re going!” What a hypocrite I am! But you see, it all depended on my point of view. When I was in one situation, I couldn’t see the other person’s perspective. Maybe it’s the same with driving and noticing ‘hateful’ people.
If you think about what your definition of ‘hateful’ is, that can give you more clarity. Does hateful mean that they tailgate, act aggressively, not let anyone in to their lane, run red lights, drive fast, flip people off? Have you ever done any of those things? What kind of a mood were you in when you did any of those things? What kind of a day were you having? How would you like to be treated if you were having a bad day? With somebody honking back at you, or giving the ‘Hawaiian good luck sign’ back to you (hopefully you’ve heard that joke – it’s hysterical)? Or somebody being compassionate and realizing you’re probably usually a nice person but are just having a bad day, and cutting you some slack, maybe even smiling at you or sending you some good energy?
You could really use driving as a spiritual practice if you wanted to. Before you get in your car, take a few deep breaths and set your intentions for the drive. Tell yourself you’ll keep a smile on your face, you’ll practice patience and understanding, you’ll obey the speed limit and understand that what happens is what’s supposed to happen (that Main Street train that comes by JUST when I’m late for an appointment? Seriously…).
Tell yourself you won’t get angry at any other drivers (you can still honk lightly if someone’s about to hit you and may not see you, or if the light’s turned green and they haven’t noticed), but will actually even send out love to all other drivers (okay, you may think this is going a bit far, but a girl can dream, can’t she?). I challenge you to do that for all of next week. Notice if anything is different about your driving experiences.
Notice other drivers’ reactions to you, if any. Notice if YOU feel any differently when you’re driving. I guarantee you it’s a REALLY good thing to do, to practice kindness while driving. But don’t take my word for it – check it out yourself. And report back – any of you – about your experiences. I’ll join you in the experiment next week and provide an update for next week’s column. Thanks for your question – happy driving.
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