I was driving through the streets of Los Angeles the other day. I arrived at the stop sign around the same time as another driver, possibly a little earlier. Because of the “possibly a little earlier,” I started to inch out into the intersection. It was a good thing I was moving slowly because apparently the other driver didn’t agree with my assessment of the situation and aggressively pushed his own car forward. I stopped and allowed him to go by. As he did so, he made an obscene gesture with his finger in my direction.
I was completely taken aback. What had I done to merit that level of hostility? (Answer: nothing.) Did a possible two-second delay in any way merit such a nasty response? Why was such an intense level of anger and vulgarity invested in such a minor situation? (Speculation: Maybe he had a fight with his wife that morning.)
It was such a brief encounter but the unpleasantness stayed with me all day. It was extremely uncomfortable to be exposed to that level of vitriol.
He drove by too fast for me to respond – in kind (which I would never do) or otherwise. But that wasn’t really my goal. What I wanted to do was understand. Why did such a simple action provoke that level of anger and, more importantly, how should I respond? Not to the driver but to my inner emotional turmoil.
As I calmed down I realized that it was foolish to give this anonymous Californian any power. He is not someone with whom I would want to strike up a friendship – or even an acquaintance! So why do I care how he behaved?
If anything I should just feel sorry for him (I’m on a roll now!). I do feel badly for someone whose fuse is so short; whose angered response is so close to the surface. I have compassion for any human being whose pain is so great that his reactions are so quick and out of proportion. I can only surmise that he must be very unhappy. People who take pleasure in themselves and their lives do not conduct themselves in this fashion.
And there’s more. There are six constant mitzvot in the Torah that are applicable every second of a Jew’s life. One of them is that there are no powers other than the Almighty. Every time I give another person the ability to affect me emotionally, I have abdicated control over my life and I have diminished my trust in God. That’s a big price to pay for a disgruntled driver.
So I’m moving on and changing my attitude. No more power to drivers with road rage. So if you see me cruising the streets of LA and I make a wrong turn or I don’t come to a full stop or I change lanes without signaling, don’t waste your time with nasty gesticulations. I’m not even going to notice.