Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Does Road Rage Say About Me?

It was a beautiful, sunny, fall afternoon.  The tricolored trees were dancing in the wind, the birds were chirping, and I was enjoying a lovely walk back to my car from work.

I decided to take the rare opportunity of alone-ness to call my sister-in-law (Hi, Evie!), and I wanted to get the phone call in before clamoring home in my vehicle.   We begin our conversation, and five minutes in, I hear --


There I was, in the middle of a crosswalk, face-to-face with a large car and an irate woman.  I stopped dead in my tracks, doing a double-take at the light just to make sure I was not crazy, and I did indeed have the right of way.

And since I am not in my car, the driver and I are forced to make eye-to-eye contact.  I am dumbfounded, and she is furious.  I give her a look of, "Huh?" and she starts screaming at me about being on my phone.  That's when the sass came out (as I'm sure my sister-in-law can attest to).  "Umm?  Thank-you -- I have the right of way," I say in a(n admittedly snotty) tone.  The woman snips back again -- something about being on my cell phone, and I interrupt her with another self-righteous, "Thank you -- I have the right of way."

Parting ways with the woman and getting quickly off the phone with Evie, I still feel the encounter boiling about in my chest.  My heart is racing.  I am mad.  "What the heck?!" I fume internally.  "Is it a crime to be on my cell phone??  How could she beep at me like that?!"  And then, of course, I proceeded to think of all the other things I should have said to her to make her see my side of the story.

But maybe(?) she was (partly?) right.
Maybe -- okay, just maybe -- I was walking too slow, oblivious to the car wanting to make a right turn.
So maybe it was a bit my fault.


Why did she react that way?  -- with the beeping and the yelling and the waving of the arms?
And why did I react that way?  -- with the snark and the sass and the feeling of entitlement?

What is it about road rage that makes us get so angry?  What is it about being shielded within or away from a car that makes us yell at each other in such a way that would rarely (if ever) occur in a coffee shop or a store or a park?  Why do I (-- a generally passive person -- a person who rarely (if ever) gets angry at anything -- a person who, if she does get angry, tends to bottle it up inside so that no one can see her feelings --) get so vocally and inwardly angry when it comes to road rage?

What does road rage say about me and my heart?

Once I calmed down, I started thinking of all the other ways I could have handled the situation (and yes, I admit, one of those ways was running after her car screaming until she conceded that I was right).  In the work I do with the after-school theatre program, we do a Theatre of the Oppressed exercise that goes something like this:   

We take a (usually real life) scene and improv through it.  For example, let's just say that we were staging my encounter with the driver lady.  We would do it one way first -- the original way -- the way things actually went down.  Then we turn to the onlookers and ask, "Is there a different way you could have handled the situation, either as Rachel or the driver?"  If a kid says yes, they jump in and take either my part or the lady's part.  Then we do the scene again, this time with the new actor making different choices to see what the outcome is.  We might do this several times before the original actors go back in to act out the scene with the new resolutions.

So I want to do a little Theatre-of-the-Oppressed-action on this scene:

If I could go back in for myself and re-do this situation, maybe I would have stopped and gotten off my phone.  Instead of a snarky comment, I would have asked, "Oh, I'm sorry -- was I walking too slow?"  I would have apologized for potentially being a careless pedestrian, and then would have explained that I genuinely thought I had the right of way.  I would ask for her forgiveness.

That's right.  I would have asked the road-rage-driver-lady for her forgiveness.  
Because I could be like everyone else and just succumb to the road-rage stereotype, or I could (in my own version of this scene) completely turn an annoying situation into a redeeming one.  I could be of the culture, or I could create a new type of culture.  If I could do it over again, I choose the latter.

I know this isn't the last road rage encounter for me in my life.  I just pray that next time, I can have a level head and choose a different (and counter-cultural) response.

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