Would I make it? The light turned yellow as I veered left through the slippery intersection on a rainy evening. I had just gotten off work for the day, so, naturally, I was in an elated mood, ready to go home. The left turn was going as planned, when suddenly the truck in front of me stopped in front of a puddle, leaving me stranded in the intersection.
No sooner did the light turn red than a horn began to howl. I looked to the right and spied a man in his 50’s, maybe early 60’s, middle finger raised, fire in his eyes, spouting angry curses my way!
As I dislodged myself from the intersection (the whole ordeal lasted anywhere from 2 to 4 seconds), I glanced at the man in my rear-view mirror, speeding past. I could see that he had yet to put his middle finger to rest.
Driving away, I’ll admit that I was taken aback by what had just happened. I like to think of myself as a very relaxed driver, so I could only imagine the satisfaction the man must have gotten in unleashing his inner beast. He had thrown himself at the feet of his primal urge to let somebody have it, and I was his target. It was pitiful, I thought. It’s people like that who are what’s wrong with the world. If only some people could control their emotions, the world would be a much better place. Relieved that he was the problem and not I, I drove off.
As I got closer to home, and the wounds to my ego had begun to heal, it dawned on me. In my self-righteousness, I had made the mistake of making him into some kind of monster. How many times had I jumped at another person who had made a mistake? If I’m honest, too many to count. I may not get riled up or suffer from road rage, but the same drive is there. The satisfaction of seeing someone else screw up and make a fool of themselves. The need to slow down and stare at a car accident. The urge to let your waiter hear it when he or she messes up your order. Or in my case, the need to make myself feel better by looking down at the road-raged driver. It’s all the same.
You see, deep inside everyone of us is an ego, a fragile entity whose job it is to make sure we always act in our own best interest. It is thanks to this fragile ego that we step on others to make us feel a little better about ourselves. The problem is that this short-term approach often makes us forget that we are all in on this short trip through life together. Each incremental gain for the ego of one person may be result in an ego loss ten times as large for another. In the end, multiplied across all of humanity, it’s a net loss for everyone.
If we truly want to improve the game of life for all players, we should retrain ourselves to be at least as responsive, if not more so, to the job well done by those around us, as to their mistakes and shortcomings. Ultimately, we all make mistakes. Let’s accept that and move on. It’s a short ride, so let’s help each other enjoy it.
I’ll never know who that man was, or what he was so angry about. I just wish I could tell him three words that might save his life: “Take it easy!”