Yesterday while driving, I turned right onto a busy street. Before the turn, there were several cars stacked up behind me. A steady flow of cars coming toward me made it difficult to make the right turn. Finally, I could see a break in traffic and decided to commit to it.
Now, when I committed to the right turn, there was a-m-p-l-e room between cars. However, this black minivan suddenly sped up when she saw me turn. In the process, she proceeded to honk her horn aggressively at me. Of course, her demeanor in the car demonstrated she was not honking to say “Hi.” Her actions would be classified as road rage.
Skip the Horn & the Rage
A little bit of a background information here before we get any further into the story. I live in a smallish-city. Not large enough to be considered a metropolitan area, but also not small enough to be a town or rural area.
If you were to ask the professionals, we are a ”micropolitan.” However, at our core, we have the small town vibes in many ways. In many small towns, horns are not used unless there is a truly urgent need.
For those of you who live in big cities, car horns are a pretty common occurrence (I can hear the echos of horns in my head from my time spent in larger cities such as San Francisco).
Now, I am not here to tell any what they should or should not be doing. I understand the importance of a car horn, but there is definitely a time and a place to use it.
Before you lose interest in my story, let me tell you why we are talking about this today…
This was Not My Finest Moment
The interaction I had with the woman in the black minivan was not my greatest moment. Here’s why…
When the woman honked her horn, she also started yelling and waving her hands at me. She was obviously trying to convey that I should not have pulled out in front of her… even though there was initially plenty of room and she sped up to tailgate me.
As I watched her in my rear view mirror, I had a knee-jerk reaction. Without thinking about it, I responded to her road rage. I yelled back at her while waving my arms around just as she had done to me.
The whole thing caught me completely off guard. Still, reaction was not appropriate for the situation. This is where feelings of shame and disappointment instantly showed up. To be clear, I was embarrassed by my actions and felt a tremendous amount of remorse. (Kinda feeling that all over again just writing about it!)
A decade ago, I didn’t live in this same community. The population of the city I lived in was more than the entire three counties surrounding my current home. Back then, I would have been the woman in the black minivan. Honking, waving my arms, and yelling at someone in another car who didn’t drive according to my standards or expectations.
Side note: Uh, apparently I was a little bit of a Karen when it came to driving. I’m not super proud to share these thougths with you. But, I think part of it has to do with a chain reaction. One person is upset while driving and it causes a domino effect — one person reacting negatively another person that continues to be passed around. It is kinda the opposite of a “paying kindness forward” scenario.
If you grew up in a place where this type of road rage was a common occurrence, you know what I am talking about. UN-learning this bad habit is no easy feat. Before this interaction with the woman in the black minivan, I thought I had released this bad habit.
Generally speaking, I thought I had found a place of zen while driving even in stressful situations. Though, based on this situation, that is not entirely accurate. Some of that road rage was still brewing somewhere deep down inside. And, the interaction that took place after that fateful right turn trigged a flood of negative emotion that had been pushed down and ignored until it bubbled up to the surface in that interaction.
Honestly, the whole thing caught me off guard. I really thought that I had moved passed this behavior. But, this event was a reminder that despite the progress I have made, there is still work to be done.
We Are Continually Learning (and Re-learning) the Same Stuff
I’m sharing this story with you for a few reasons. The first lesson serves as a reminder that despite the progress we make in life — learning and unlearning — there is always still work to do.
Now, this might be an unpopular opinion. We like to think that once we have learned something, we are good and we can move on, not having to worry about it ever again. But, that is not the case.
Much like learning about the parts that make up the cells of our bodies (and the basic building blocks of all living things), you will continue to learn the same lessons again and again and again…
Let me elaborate a little bit more.
When you were in middle school, at some point in time, you learned about cells. Perhaps you learned something like the mitochondria is the “powerhouse” of the cell (I say this because it is a major fact I recall from my early science days). As you entered high school, you inevitably had a biology class that you — once again — learned about cells. This time you likely learned about it in greater detail.
If you proceeded to take college courses, you will undoubtedly take a science class that talks about — you guessed it — the cell, including cellular make up, structure, and function.
Each time you learned about cells, you likely learned a little bit more than you had in the previous lesson. In fact, you likely learned something that you had forgotten from the time before.
Now, in some cases, you may have an incredible memory, like my college friend Jeannette. Her recall of certain information in our time spent together in classes absolutely amazes me to this day! On the other hand, you might be more like me. Each time you re-learn something, there is a lot of “Oh, yea. Now I remember that…”
Given the fact we continually learn and relearn the same information in school, why do we think that we should (and will) remember life lessons and never have to revisit them again?
I’m not entirely sure why we think this. But, it has certainly been an unrealistic expectation of myself over the years. So, I am writing about this today as a reminder that we will continue to learn the same lessons throughout our entire lives. Even if it is something we feel as though we shouldn’t have to learn again.
A Reminder to Exercise Compassion
The whole interaction with the woman in the minivan was also a great reminder to practice compassion. While my knee jerk reaction was to yell back at her, it is entirely possible her own actions left her feeling remorseful. Maybe she was having a bad day or was in a big hurry. I don’t know what was going on in her world (or that black minivan). Even if I did, it is not my place to judge her actions.
Instead, compassion was needed in that moment. There was obviously something in her life that made her react the way that she did. Not that I am trying to justify her actions, but instead realize that we don’t always know what is going on in other people’s lives. And, let’s face it, my right turn was not the only source of her frustrations that day.
At the same time, there was compassion that needed to be applied toward me and my own reaction. Obviously the situation struck a nerve with me. There’s some sort of underlying trouble that needs to be dealt with in my life.
While I am still not 100% certain what was the underlying cause of my knee jerk reaction, I need exercise self-compassion.
Now, this isn’t all about me. Instead, I am sharing this story as a way to help you. So, when I’m talking about exercising self-compassion for my reaction, I am trying to say that you may need the same thing.
We have a tendency, as humans, to speak negatively toward ourselves. However, we need to learn to be more understanding and compassionate about why we do the things we do. Only then will we be able to uncover the root cause of our issues to start overcoming them.
Bringing the Story Home
Next time you are in a situation where you react to someone’s behavior in a way that you are not proud… remember, you are not alone. It happens to the best of us.
Instead of feeling guilty about your behavior, consider what you can learn (or need to re-learn) from the situation. Yes, even if you thought you had already learned that lesson before. It might be time for you to learn a little more or uncover more details within the lesson than the last time you went through a similar situation.
Most importantly, remember to practice compassion. For yourself and for the other party involved. Our world will always benefit from more compassion.