ONE DAY LAST SPRING, I was backing out of a parking space more slowly than usual, because the car I was driving felt somewhat unfamiliar after three months behind the wheel of a different car. A man in a sedan grew impatient, leaned on the horn, rolled down the window, turned the air blue with a blast of obscenities, then roared on past. Apparently, he considered my wasting 20 seconds of his valuable time a serious offense. For my part, I considered his boorish behavior an even greater offense. So, as he drove off—believe it or not!—I started to follow him.
Growing angrier by the moment, I rehearsed the tongue-lashing he so richly deserved. Soon he pulled into a driveway, and I actually considered stopping, getting out, and telling him in very crisp terms how offensive and immature his behavior was to me. Fortunately for both of us, I thought better of the idea and just kept on driving.
I recalled this incident a few months ago when two cases of road rage had topped the evening news. They were pretty appalling, too. Both involved firearms, and one proved fatal when a driver gunned down another motorist in the presence of his eight-month-old child. I squirmed when I heard these stories, because I knew, under the right set of circumstances, they could have been about me. The irrational fury I felt that spring afternoon could easily have led to tragedy. OK, that was a major wake-up call.
What, exactly, is this phenomenon called road rage? Granted, hundreds of horsepower and thousands of pounds of metal lend a certain impact to the discussion. But the thoughts behind it are pretty much the same as, for example, impatience people feel while waiting in a slow-moving supermarket line; or the frustration that boils up when a simple request for replacement of defective merchandise turns into a major hassle with management.
These angry feelings may seem normal because "everybody has them," and also because we feel entirely justified in our indignation. The sobering reality, however, is that when unchecked, such feelings can lead to the death of a young father who simply cut off another driver on the interstate. It's just a matter of degree.
HUMAN WILL IS THE REAL CULPRIT BEHIND THE SCENE.
To me, it's also a matter of habit. Human will is the real culprit behind the scene. Many of us live and work under very stressful conditions. We get pretty intent about our own plans and schedules, and pretty angry with anyone who breaks our rhythm. It's a pattern of thought that desperately needs to be challenged. But willing ourselves to be less willful is not the way to go.
Much more effective is honest yielding to the divine will. Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error,—self-will, self-justification, and self-love,—which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death" (Science and Health, p. 242). Divine Love—the nature of God Himself, which we as His children express—is the source of our ability to do His will and bless others. It's not human goodness alone that does the job; it's letting God and His love work through us.
What this "letting" has looked like for me is cultivating more humility, repeatedly testing thought. When I feel my temper about to flare, I ask the question: What's the best way to solve the problem, rather than just react to it? That usually stops me in my tracks and points me in the direction of God, asking for His help and listening for His guidance rather than taking matters into my own hands.
The other day I was waiting in a restaurant for what seemed like forever for my food to be served; others had been eating for 10 or 15 minutes before the meal arrived. It was so tempting to scold the waiter. Instead, I lifted thought both to see and be God's child, and smiled. Later, the waiter and I struck up a friendly conversation, and I left feeling happy about my dining experience, instead of feeling guilty—as I sometimes had in the past for behaving like a hothead. The food settled a lot better that way, too.
That was a small beginning. But turning to God and expressing His nature address the issue of rage and tension right where it lives—in the tiny details of our daily lives. That's a simple but powerful way to make a difference, one thought at a time.
Elaine Follis is a contributing editor. She is Todd Professor of Religious Studies at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.