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Dealing with Other People’s Road Rage & Letting Go of Anger

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” ~Buddha

It happens all the time…

You’re driving, listening to music, just enjoying life and the feel of the road. Then a car roars past you and the driver promptly swerves and cuts you off, seemingly oblivious to anything but his own destination.

Or, you come to a full stop at a stop sign and the driver behind you lays on the horn, impatient for you to get moving. Glancing in your rear view mirror, you see him flailing his arms and punching a raised fist at you behind his windshield.

Nearly every time you hit the road you will see another driver do something either discourteous or even downright dangerous.

Many times, you are the recipient of that behavior.

If you are anything like I used to be, your first impulse will be to lay on the horn, shout a curse, or put pedal to the metal and try to pass the guy and then cut him off.

Those of you who are less aggressive may at least find yourself wishing you’d come around the next bend and see the guy’s car off the road with a flat tire—or, better yet, see the bright flashing lights of a police cruiser whose uniformed driver has pulled your new worst enemy over.

It’s so easy to get angry. Not so easy to let it go.

As noted at the beginning of this post, the Buddha warned us that the punishment for anger is anger itself. He also said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

How right he was.

As you shout curses at the driver, nearly rupturing a vein in your forehead, he has already left you in a cloud of dust. He has no idea you’re yelling. Or if he does, he probably doesn’t even care.

While you sit stewing and dreaming of his immanent intimacy with an overheated radiator (or, admit it, much worse!), he is long gone. But you are trapped in anger that will linger for a few minutes or may even ruin the rest of your day, clouding everything with the bitterness of the mood you fell into after the driving mishap.

Here’s the thing…

That anger is doing you no good.

It isn’t changing the situation.

Instead of shrugging it off and getting on with your life, you’re allowing that one discourteous act to take you from being happy and content to bitter and angry.

But what is a person to do? After all, the slight is perceived and the anger arises, unbidden.

I used to have that same struggle, but I found a cure and I can guarantee if you master this one simple technique, you’ll banish road rage to a cobwebbed corner of your mind where it will die a lonely death.

So what’s the trick, you ask?

As I indicated, it’s very simple (though not necessarily easy to master).

The next time another driver does something that provokes anger in you, do these seven things.

  1. Take a DEEP breath.
  2. Release it.
  3. Repeat.
  4. Now, imagine a person you dearly love.
  5. Imagine this person has just phoned and told you s/he is in desperate need of immediate assistance for an emergency situation and you are the only one who can offer aid.
  6. Imagine how you would be driving in that case.
  7. Now, imagine the person who just provoked you with his/her bad driving is in exactly that predicament.
  8. That’s it!

Initially, your mind may rebel.

You may reason it’s more likely the person is just being a jerk. That may be the case, but can you actually know that?

(And isn’t your angry response very “jerk-like” itself?)

Any number of situations could be at play in that person’s life.

Perhaps it’s a man whose wife is about to give birth and he wants to be by her side. Perhaps it’s a daughter whose father just had a heart attack and she needs to get to the hospital to see him. Or maybe it’s someone who just lost her job and feels distraught. Maybe, just maybe, it really is just someone being rude.

The fact remains that a response of anger on your part only further upsets you and can even lead to acts of violence in extreme cases of road rage.

Is it worth it?

How much better is it to do what I just suggested and then, in a peaceful frame of mind, wish that person well and safely home.

Wouldn’t this world be a better place if we could all do this one, simple thing?

Photo by accept on eclectic

Avatar of Frank Paino

About Frank Paino

Frank Paino is a self-proclaimed "eclectic Buddhist" who blogs A Permanent Grin, a site that aims to help readers find real happiness and then change the world for the better.  Subscribe to his blog here.

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  • Lou

    Wonderful comments and suggestions. Those steps are exactly what I’ve been doing for years. Having been a police officer, I’ve seen firsthand how many times the rudeness and erratic driving is due to an emergency. Stupid for the person to be in a rush. They only risk not getting there in one piece, and–risk putting others in danger.

    We need more people behind the wheel taking deep breaths. Good advice!

    LOU

  • Jean

    Wish I could bradcast this to every driver in the city!

  • Jean

    Oops — read: Wish I could broadcast this to every driver in the city!

  • Karla

    Excellent advice – You never know the emergency someone else is in or their state of mind. I prefer to think of them as distressed rather than rude, and hope that others are as kind to me.

    As for alertness, though I haven’t been in accidents, I have missed exits because I was less than focused as I drove. In the moment is a good way to be behind the wheel.

  • Bessie Bug

    it does seem like a good idea to be mindful of what you are doing as you navigate a big chunk of steel down the highway at high speeds.

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose AlannahRose

    I will fully admit that I am someone who struggles with this. I have been trying now for probably a year and a half to tell myself just those things, that the other driver doesn’t care about how angry s/he’s made me (and how s/he could’ve killed me–that’s the part that makes it so hard, the clear disrespect for MY & others’ lives)… that it only ends up ruining MY day and not the driver’s, etc.

    The part that is the hardest is just wishing them well. I do try to focus on hoping that they will be safer on their journey than they were around me, so that nobody else has to worry about getting hurt, but just plain wishing them well takes a lot of mental strength and forgiveness and I am unfortunately not there yet, as embarrassing as it is to admit. I am someone with a very strong sense of “justice” and it’s hard to just accept that there are so many people who live like that and honestly seem not to care about how it affects others. I get that they might be in an emergency situation, but I guess it’s hard to excuse in my mind no matter what the circumstances are.

  • http://twitter.com/_LiveInspired_ Alison Miller

    I like what you have to share. I live on an island. Luckily, road rage is not an overwhelming day to day issue here, in fact it is considered rude to honk at people here. Can you imagine? Seriously, I haven’t heard a horn honk here, Maui, in years.

    But, there are often times when a lot of tourists visit, especially during whale season, and the drivers forget they are driving, on a twisting two lane road with oncoming traffic, and become enraptured with the whales jumping, which can be viewed on the ocean horizon. Drivers slow, without warning to 25mph in a 45mph area, it is surprising, dangerous and frustrating. I definitely mentally honk when this happens and mutter some disgruntled comments to myself.

    You have reminded me to think of the other person driving again. They are new to the island, in love with the beauty around them and they are helping me to slow down and develop patience. Thank-you for the reminder. I will adapt your process to my setting.

  • Susie

    What I do when I feel the sudden onset of rage against an inconsiderate driver is imagine that the person could be someone’s mother, just like my own sweet mother, and that she simply made a mistake or an error in judgement. Regardless of whether that is true or not, I immediately calm down and forgive the person. I find that, just like the post says, I feel much better in the aftermath of the incident than if I were to harbor a grudge that could ruin my mood.

  • hjarten

    This is excellent advice. I’m just not sure how feasible it is.

    I had an incident, during a 15 minute commute to work a few years ago. Beautiful spring motning, feeling good, flowing with the traffic. In the course of 3 or 4 minutes I was cut off by 4 different drivers. After the first one, my rage started to resonate with their rage. 45 mph limit, but as my rage increased so did my speed. I was driving 90 mph and weaving in and out of traffic like a race driver. When I got to work, as I was standing in front of my locker I began to shake because it finally dawned on me I could of killed someone.

    Well I tried to take it easy after that. Now I am retired and live in a city in southern Mexico and do not own a car and walk everywhere as much as possible. I had to make an adjustment because pedestrians here do not have the right of way. Theory is that this is a hold over from horse and buggy days when rich people rode around in them and the poor just scurried out of the way. So I had a different type of rage to deal with when drivers do not use turn signals and cut in front of you while you’re in the crosswalk or run almost against your legs. When you look at them they are either laughing or snarling. Hard to think of my grandmother acting that way. It helps to think of the poor backgrounds that they come from and how now they have all this power in their hands. I have to take pity on them because the expense of owning and driving a vehicle is something I no longer have to deal with and the money saved allows me to be generous with others not to mention; one less carbon foot print.

    I have slowed way down when walking across the city (sometimes I try Shambhala walking meditation) and my patience has shot up ten fold. I find it helps to viscerally imagine being run over. This is an excellent deterrent.

    Sidenote: The Buddhist/Tibetan scholar Robert Thurman pointed out, in a lecture once, how it was amusing to notice how humanity has evolved to the point of regression; each of us driving around in cars…like beetles.

  • Jeandrouin85

    Amazing….very useful,in our busy life to get reminded about such as driving your car …in a zen kind of way.Thanks ,long life to Tiny Buddha.

  • http://twitter.com/AltitudeSports_ Altitude-sports.com

    Ah yes, empathy, the key to truly appreciate life and others.

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  • Alg200385

    Awesome advice

  • i have this propblem

    this is the best article i have read on this topic. It does help people with there road rage and how to controlle it when they do get angrey with other people on the road.
    i like how they use Budda on this topic if you get angry just let it go caused that is the hardest thing can do.

  • Donnal91

    I like you.  Can you come live with me please?

  • Rayy

    I just want to say that I come across atleast 2 freak show drivers everyday and its the most frustrating thing ever! I can’t seem to let it go. It haunts me day and niht for weeks, even months and I just feel so angr all day hoping that the person crashed horribly. I’m a very passive driver and when people cut me off, it’s ok. I don’t get angry and engage in shrewd behavior but when people like this morning think they have the right of way while entering the fwy, it’s wrong. I was in the carpool lane and her light just turned green so I continued to go and she sped up as I did and she almost hit the wall but she wouldn’t stop so I slowed down while honking at her. It was the stupidest thing ever. Then she continued through the fwy in and out of lanes and finally slowed down with traffic. Clearly, she was just being a b****. Anyways, I’ve been looking at ways to deal with my anger that lasts so long and this article is the best I’ve come across. I just hope i can think with this mindset in the moment.

  • Kurt

    Good advice, but I can almost guarantee you the perpetrators of road rage, as it’s called are just being jerks, or just very immature,(i.e. teenagers on a Friday or Saturday afternoon or,evening.) What’s truly sad, is the fct that many of these people were never taught by their parents how to have patience and show respect towards others.

  • Kurt

    Glad to hear you’ve been spared the exposure to traffic problems and the resulting road rage, but as far as honking and horns go on vehicles, they are there for a reason, to make the other driver aware they either sleeping at the wheel or not paying attention to their driving, it’s to help save lives, not to necessarily be a cause for rudeness! , Enjoy Hawaii!

  • Dave

    I like the idea of letting go of anger at people being selfish but I wonder what happens if all the good people just keep being more and more passive and understanding and all the jerks just get worse and worse!

  • Guest

    Denial gota love it when people try to advise others to deny too. No I’m very sure they’re jerkish and that is human nature for some subhuman people. Just read the science about it.

  • fushigi

    I always try to forgive the drivers that made mistake and raised their hands in apology. I don’t honk unless accident is in evident. I also try to be patient when they caused inconvenience and there is nothing anyone of us can do. A while ago at Silverstar Blvd, Scarborough, Ontario, I made a left turn not knowing there is a car just suddenly appeared so I had to stop for just 2 seconds in the middle to let the car who has the right of way pass. It was just a 2 second pause and the road is empty because it is sunday. The blonde woman honked the car so loud and too long that you would think I made a mortal sin and need to be kicked out from being able to drive. It really made me feel that the Golden Rule just mocked me right in the face.

  • fushigi

    What I mean is the woman on the other side of the road that I blocked for 2 seconds. She was near the scene when I was already at the middle of the road. There was no risk of accident that time, just impediment of traffic.

  • Charlie Victoria

    Thanks for posting this article. It helped

  • stephen

    I believe in common courtesy, if you cut someone off wave and speed up quickly and get going. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong and will apologize when I have done another driver wrong. But in the last several years I have noticed common courtesy is gone. I drive on a two lane road to work with no passing lanes, as I am driving I will see a car very quickly drive up to a stop sign and then turn out into the road in front of me making me brake. At that point they drive 5 to 10 miles under the speed limit for the next ten minutes. So much in a hurry to get in front of me but not to get where they are going. This drives me crazy, sometimes when we get to the two lane road I speed up and get in front of them and slow down and then I can see them go ballistic. I know it is wrong to try to teach them a lesson and it doesn’t work but I just want to let them know how they make me feel. I am trying real hard to try not to teach these people a lesson anymore, its just that it happens every day and it just builds up. I hope I can use your techniques to make be a little more patient.

  • cammie

    I was involved in a road rage incident just this morning. The other driver, a young male in his 20′s, threatened to kill me and called me every filthy name you’ve ever heard and probably some you’ve not.

    He had been tailgating me for miles and at one point attempted to pass on the right in a no- passing zone using the breakdown lane. I allowed his behavior to force me into driving 20mph over the speed limit just to avoid the feeling of being the subject of his anger.

    At the traffic light he pulled within inches of the passenger side of my car and said I had just cut him off! He wanted me to know that he had his “fu^*ing kid in the car” and that he intended to “teach me lesson”.

    I felt the best thing to do was try to ignore his verbal assault and avoid making eye contact with him at all. This only seemed to enrage him further at which point he threated to get out of his car and kill me!

    I have never been so frightened in all my life. I cant get the image of his face, contorted with rage and screaming at the top of his lungs, out of my mind.

    When the light changed I drove away (at the speed limit) and he resumed tail gaiting me and I could see he was still screaming. I could make out the silhouette of a car seat with a young child in the back seat of his sedan. That poor kid!
    After a few miles I pulled over into the relative safety of a store parking lot. He roared by, honking his horn and still yelling! It was then I realized I was shaking uncontrollably. I sat in my car until I felt able to drive the few more miles to my home.
    It has been a few hours and I’m still upset and trying to work through this incident. this article has helped tremendously.

  • hunter

    hey