You honking at ME?! Confessions of a road warrior

Road warriors. I see them everywhere. And all too often, I must confess, I’m one as well.

An epidemic of rage

The headlines scream that road rage is an epidemic. A recent study by AAA concurs, stating that 80 percent of drivers admitted to expressing aggression, anger or road rage behind the wheel.

This increased hostility isn’t surprising. The roads are crowded and, in many places, in poor condition. We’re often stressed, over-extended and over-caffeinated, and so are the other drivers.

a stream of brake lights ahead
Row17, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even worse, we’re all distracted. We talk on our phones, eat meals, and even groom ourselves behind the wheel. And then there’s texting.

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Texting while driving, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the safety campaigns, the huge fines if we’re caught, and the grisly news images of mangled cars and grieving families, many of us still text and drive.

No wonder we’re so angry. Like I said, I feel that anger and aggression, too. I get impatient with the lousy roads, the traffic jams, and all the drivers who aren’t actually driving. And yet…

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Looking in the (rearview) mirror

Road rage isn’t a “me-versus-them” dynamic. I’m not blameless here. I also participate in this culture of rage:

  • I honk.
  • I make crude gestures.
  • I tailgate slow drivers.

I, too, am a road warrior. I’m in that eighty percent.

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Teen checking rearview mirror, CC BY 2.0 via flickr

And truth be told, I sometimes let myself get distracted, whether by a phone call, the weather report, or that new store that just opened up. I’m causing other drivers to slow down, or maneuver around me, or honk, or swear, or gesticulate. I’m part of the problem.

Kindergarten for drivers

Sharing the road isn’t a new concept. But this week it took on a new meaning for me.

While driving through a construction zone, I suddenly remembered a lesson from kindergarten. We all had to share the toys at play time. This rule was gently but strictly enforced. Not sharing meant having to sit by yourself, watching everyone else have fun.

What if I applied that rule to driving, I wondered. After all, the road does not belong to me. It belongs to everyone, including other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. To earn the privilege of driving on that road, I must share it with them, just like I shared those toys at play time.

I’m working on being mindful of sharing, and putting the road warrior in a time out.

car and bike next to each other on sign saying share the road
NYC Share the road sign, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You can read about the study here: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

The Zen of meetings: Remembering to listen

Sometimes being in the moment means being bored. That is the uncomfortable reality of attending meetings.

I’m not a big fan of meetings. If they go on too long, and what meeting doesn’t, they release the squirmy preteen who lives in my head.

bored looking preteen girl
My inner squirmy preteen

She flicks her gaze back and forth between the clock and whoever is speaking. She scribbles nonsense in the margins of her legal pad. When she has exhausted all socially acceptable diversions, she resorts to that middle-school favorite, criticism.

“Let’s think outside the box,” she fumes silently. “Really?!”

Of course she’s not the only person who finds that cliché, or any cliché, distasteful. After all, clichés indicate a certain laziness in the speaker, right, so it’s okay to heap scorn and mockery on their heads, right?

Simmer down, I tell my inner brat. It isn’t that simple.

Sometimes using clichés is a mistake. But sometimes using them indicates a code, a common language indicating common goals, a way to get to the point faster. In those instances, a cliché can be an effective communication tool. So what’s really going on here, I ask my inner tweenster. Why the eye roll?

The ugly truth

The truth, it turns out, is very unflattering. To me. The truth is that when I’m bored and fidgety, it’s often because I’m not truly listening. I’m using boredom as an excuse to disengage and think snarky thoughts. Rather than tuning out, I need to tune in.

Listening is a skill. It’s an active process requiring not just my attention but thoughtful consideration of the message. It requires setting aside my own impatience and extending the courtesy of my full attention to the speaker. In short, it requires mindfulness.

Coming home to mindfulness

It all starts with the breath. I begin silently counting my breaths, from one to four. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count one. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count two. When I get to four, I start again.

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I count to four and start again

This return to mindfulness helps me engage my listening skills. And once I do,  the meeting transforms. Or rather, my experience of it transforms.

I feel more connected to the others in the room. I start to understand what it is they’re saying, or trying to say. I’m more actively involved. This sense of connection is a good clue that I’ve tuned in again.

Do I still get fidgety? Of course. And I still think no meeting should last more than 20 minutes. But I’m getting better at reminding myself to listen. One meeting at a time.

zen garden
Zen garden