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View Point

By The Rev. Mike Young

Saturday, January 22, 2000

‘Road rage’ is a sign of
emotional immaturity

Such bad behavior signals a
failure of moral teaching


THEY'RE calling it "road rage." That's what the traffic experts have named it. A state Department of Transportation survey estimates that "aggressive driving, which includes road rage and unnecessarily risky behavior, has become so widespread that 77 percent of drivers witnessed incidents within the past 30 days, and 29 percent said they engaged in it themselves," ("Survey: 'Road rage' in isles widespread," Star-Bulletin, Jan. 5).

So now that there is a diagnostic label for this behavior, we have a whole new class of victims.

"Hey, it's not my fault. I'm a sufferer of 'road rage.' "

I'm not buying that excuse.

An alliterative label doesn't change the fact that so-called "road rage" is a failure to control one's emotions. Emotional maturity involves choosing appropriate ways to express emotions. Emotional maturity involves the recognition that one is not the intentional target of every inconvenience, irritation or the events that occasion them.

Note: I said occasion them; not cause them.

That driver in the car ahead of you was not the cause of your irritation at the delay occasioned by the heavy traffic. Whatever the cause of the traffic jam, the cause of your irritation was you. You failed to leave on time. You failed to anticipate the drive time.

The story is told of the Buddhist master who, when a young monk, was rowing a boat across a river. Suddenly another boat bumped into the bow of the monk's boat. The monk stood in his boat, jerked one of the oars out of its lock and turned, ready to lay the blade of that oar up-side the head of the other rower.

But the other boat was empty!

In that moment the monk was enlightened.

Other people, other events, are not the cause of our emotions. They are OUR reactions.

Oh, I know. We make excuses for our behavior. We say, "He made me mad!" We say, "She hurt my feelings!"

But somewhere inside we know that, to the extent that anyone or anything is responsible, we are responsible for our own emotional reactions.

The other boat is almost always empty! And there is no one to blame but ourselves.

The occasions when other people's lack of proper driving skills has required me to exercise mine roughly equals the number of times that someone else's driving skills have saved my sheet metal.

When one of those events occurs, the adrenaline flows. Our bodies prepare for fight or flight. Or, in this case, we prepare for the accusation of, or defense against the accusation of, intentionality.

THAT we have the emotions is wired in. How we respond to those emotions -- how we turn them into action --is learned behavior. But where in our growing up do we learn how to direct emotion into appropriate action?

Our failure as a culture to do that is essentially a religious failure; a failure of moral teaching. We seem to think that moral education is TELLING what is right and wrong. But, even if that worked, which it doesn't, real moral education has to do with much more specific learning -- how to direct emotion into appropriate action.

Unfortunately, without that learning, all the boats (and the cars) are empty.

The Rev. Mike Young is pastor of the First Unitarian Church,
a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, in Honolulu.

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