How To End Road Rage
One option is to move to Southeast Asia, where driving rules are mere suggestions. But there’s another way.
I gave up road rage about five years before I moved to Southeast Asia. Little did I know the steps I created to free myself from this bad habit would help me immensely while driving not only on the other side of the road, but on the literal other side of the world.
Back when I recognized my rage at my fellow drivers, I was living in south Florida. This is the state where American retirees turn elderly alongside good ole country boys driving drunk in humungous pick-up trucks emblazoned with confederate flag stickers. Quite often, as a resident who was neither retired nor interested in honoring the losing side of the Civil War more than 150 years later, I’d often find myself sandwiched behind a senior driver creeping along 20 miles below the speed limit and in front of an impatient youngin’ revving his engine and tailgating.
So, I understand when my friends post pictures on their social media of idiots and maniacs and psychos driving unsafely. There was the picture of the SUV cutting across three lanes of traffic to make a surprise left-hand turn. There was the picture of a man on a scooter with his daughter, with a pink helmet strapped on her little head, clinging with spindly arms to his back. The dude with a surfboard precariously stuffed in a convertible without any means of strapping it down? Yeah, I guess it makes sense to call him a kook.
But my otherwise calm and peace-loving friends in America have no time for the jerks and a-holes on the road. My father, who used his smarts to get orders in the exchange handing out uniforms while the rest of his platoon got shipped to Vietnam (where I’m writing this, by the way), is one of the most peaceful people I know. But get him behind a wheel when some moron is trying to sneak in behind someone else merging into traffic in front of him? Watch out!
Lord knows, I’ve had more than my fair share of accidents in my day. Almost all of them were my fault, too. Sometimes, I would be mindless when I was driving. I’d be too busy thinking about what smoothie I was going to order from the shop to barely notice that I was cutting off a driver while making my turn. One time, I was so blissed out after a massage that I hit the person in front of me at a stop light. I was sorry, but still amazingly relaxed.
You see, I’ve been on both side of the rage. I understand it’s often quite justified. People would flick their middle finger, call me names and cut me off with such anger that dust would blow up on to my hood and obscure my vision. That sure showed me! And yet, what comes around goes around. That dumbass! That dipshit! WTF is WRONG with that person!? A chorus of profanity would whip like wet sports towels from my vehicle.
One day, I realized something. I’m actually not an angry person. Nor do I want to be. Science has proven that venting doesn’t make you feel better. It makes you angier, in fact. Yelling at a stranger who was, I don’t know, dreaming of smoothies wasn’t making me morally superior. In fact, it was making me less so. I recognized that by playing into this habit of road rage, which has truly become an epidemic in America, I was missing an opportunity to be compassionate.
Travel helped me understand this. Not long after I decided to give up road rage, I took a trip to Costa Rica. The bus on which I traveled across the country had made a brief stop at an open-air bodega for passengers to load up on snacks and Imperial beers. While I was in line waiting to pay for my empanadas, I heard a loud crash from the road.
It was a fender bender. The person in the car behind was obviously at fault, and when the driver emerged we all saw he was a just teenager. He ran up to the damage and put both of his hands on his head in the universal “OH NO” move. Then an older man, whose car was hit, got out to assess the damage.
I was completely ready to witness the screaming and berating in Spanish. I mean, I even had snacks. It was like a television show right in front of me. But there was an amazing plot twist: The older man looked at the damage, then turned to the upset teenager who hadn’t stopped in time. Instead of yelling, the man gave the kid a hug. As I witnessed him patting the new driver on the back to comfort him, my driving style forever changed. I wanted to be more like that man.
When I returned to the U.S. and behind the wheel, I decided to make my car a sanctuary of peace. I filled the interior with dried lavender and essential oils. I played only peaceful music, the kind you’d expect to hear in a spa. I was dedicated to peace. I started imagining all the old people around me were driving with expensive, ceramic Fabergé eggs in their backseats. I decided they had to be very careful — it explained why they were going so slowly and swerving.
But then, you know, that dickwad cut me off!
I needed a better plan than imaginary excuses and aromatherapy. That’s when I came up with the strategic use of the raspberry, also known as a strawberry or even the Bronx cheer. For the uninitiated, blowing a raspberry is when you stick your tongue out slightly between pursed lips and blow so that you make a ridiculous farty noise. Go on, try it. Chances are, you smiled immediately afterward. That is the magic of the raspberry.
A raspberry is all it takes to end road rage. Every time someone does something stupid or makes a mistake, simply give them the raspberry. You make it abundantly clear that you are dissatisfied. No one likes being the recipient of one of those. Yet, you also can’t help but laugh heartily at yourself. It’s like you’re being a kid again. In effect, your heart softens. Do this for a month or so, and you’ll be ready for Southeast Asia.
Because on this side of the globe, it’s not even worth your energy to feel so, as my father says, honked off. There are simply too many drivers going the wrong way down streets, buzzing through stop lights, ignoring lane demarcations or even heading straight toward you in an interesting game of chicken in the middle of a roundabout. In India, you can also add cows cutting you off as they meander into busy highways to munch on some grass growing on the median. You’ll be too busy swerving around potholes and avoiding stray dogs to spend time telling another driver that you’re disappointed in them.
Besides, even with all that craziness, I witnessed very few accidents. The organized chaos of driving in Southeast Asia works. In fact, the traffic injury rate is lower here than the global average. Granted, there are a lot more people — so safety is a concern. But everyone is just trying to get from A to B, and no one spends energy chastising bad moves. The worst rage I’ve seen? A barely visible head shake.
When you take personally the act of another on the road, it’s a recipe for road rage. But by doing this, you’re making yourself the center of the universe. You don’t know what’s going on. Maybe that smoothie I’m dreaming of is for my sick grandmother, who is requesting it for her last meal. Maybe that kid is revving his engine because his girlfriend is about to give birth.
You can’t designate yourself the chief of the citizen police, upholding justice and safety for you and your neighbors. Your anger and outrage aren’t helping anyone — especially not yourself.
We are living in frustrating times, it’s true. When I watch the U.S. from afar, I understand why so many people are angry. Neighbors are divided against one another arguably more than ever before in history. But your fellow drivers aren’t obstacles on your path. They are your neighbors, whether you know their names or not. They could be your future friend or someone who would help you if you were suddenly in a life-threatening accident because, you know, smoothies. Raspberry smoothies.
We’re all just trying to get to where we want to go. Like Ram Dass said, we’re all just walking each other home. Ending the rage inside will help you develop peace within. And isn’t that a better feeling than giving the middle finger to somebody’s mother, father, son or daughter?