Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Car Psychology


For years, I have held the philosophy that life in a car is a microcosm of society. The way people behave behind the wheel seems to reflect the way they live their life.

There are those drivers that maneuver aggressively and take every opportunity to drive as fast as possible--even in between traffic lights. I always theorized that these people craved power and hoped others would see them as powerful, thus driving in this overpowering style.

There are those that drive well below the speed limit and look at you like you are a raving lunatic when you pass them. I theorize that this type of person is afraid of life and does not trust their own abilities but justifies their conservative style by accusing every one else of being irresponsible crazies. (This diagnosis does not apply to older people or people with physical issues that require them to exercise more caution.)

Then there are those drivers who push their way to the front of the line in a traffic jam, put on make-up while they drive or fail to even glance to the side when the turn into traffic or merge onto the highway. I imagine these people to be quite self-absorbed in their lives, moving through with little regard for the feelings or needs of others. They expect those around them to bend or move aside to accommodate their presence.

These are all, of course, gross generalizations based on pure fantasy and assumption! Nonetheless, I believe there to be a grain of truth in this philosophy and, at the very least, it makes driving more interesting for me!!

I am certainly not a perfect driver. In fact, I have been known to get angry behind the wheel and to be unforgiving of the drivers around me. Yesterday, I found myself muttering "jack-***" under my breath at two different drivers at two different times. Road rage is something that I acquired during my time living in the Bay Area. Every once in awhile, it comes back with a vengence.

My first road rage episode this morning, happened at a major intersection near my house. I was taking a left and there was a woman in a huge Cadilac who was way over the white line and therefore causing everyone to slow down. It was a bit of a mess, a very small mess, but enough for me to accuse her of being a jack-***. When I looked at her I thought she looked oddly unconcerned with the problems she was causing and this made me feel more irritated. She should at least have the "I'm sorry" look on her face accompanied by the palms up hand gesture/shrug that indicates it was not intentional! This is standard protocol for traffic boo-boos.

After I was past the jam, I was reminded of all the times I had been in a similar situation. When you pass the line, for whatever reason, and there is another car or string of cars close behind, there's really nothing you can do but run the light or wait it out. In those times when I sat waiting for my release, I didn't have the "I'm sorry" face. I probably had the "Get over it" face. I was reminded in that moment of the many lessons in compassion I had attempted to integrate within myself during my years of illness. When I am able to remind myself that I have been that person, who is now my object of irritation, it is so easy to drop the feelings of frustration. By realizing my own resume of driving errors, I was embarrassed that I had allowed myself to get so pissy about the Cadillac crossing the white line. Those who live in glass houses, right?

Well, my compassion didn't last he whole day. Apparently, it wears off with time because, hours later on my drive home, I was right back in full road rage mode. Come to think of it, I was at the exact same intersection but this time I was turning right. So close to home! There was a green Honda in front of me and a green light in front of her. Instead of moving forward to make the light, this driver slowed and almost stopped many feet before the intersection. I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting her--her reaction to a green light was quite unexpected. Once again, my face flushed and I called out a name. What the heck was she doing??

At a snail's pace, she took a right at the light and I followed her up the hill to my neighborhood. To my surprise, she turned onto my street. This is another aspect to road rage: it's easy to rant and rave to the anonymous driver behind the wheel but an entirely different story when the driver who steps out of the car happens to be a neighbor, a client or a friend!

At one point, I was released from following her timid pace because I went right and she continued forward. Rounding the hill to my house, I saw a girl standing on the curb. She was checking her watch, looking off to the horizon. It occurred to me that the woman in the green Honda was probably going to pick her up. The woman in the green Honda was lost.

Once again, I found myself drenched in road rage regret. How many times in my life have I been lost--in a car or just in my life in general? Many. And , at those times, what did I wish for the most? Patience and understanding from those around me. We all get lost, we all need space to find our way sometimes. My impatient face in the rear view mirror would only cause the driver more panic and slow her down even more. Counterproductive for all--very non-compassionate on my part!

There was a time, many years ago, when I was transporting a large dog who had recently passed away. I was taking her to the crematorium about an hour away. There were two things going on along that journey. The first being that the smell was beginning to be difficult to tolerate. The second being that I wanted to be respectful of this sweet dog's remains and so I was taking turns and curves at a very slow and gradual speed. Because of these things, I was driving very strangely that day--going as fast as I could, when I could, but also driving very cautiously when needed. I imagine my weird driving was the source of frustration for some people on that day.

I often think of that journey when I think about being compassionate. You never know who had a dead dog in the back of their car! Give people the benefit of the doubt that the way they are driving or the way they are living has a reason beyond your ability to see or understand.

The difficulty for me is remembering these lessons when I, once again, find myself behind a slow-poke or when my bumper is being ridden by a speed-demon. Driving might be representative of how we live our lives, I don't know. What I do know is that it is a perfect practice field for finding compassion for anonymous, sometimes frustrating, humans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

reminds me a bit of this.