Coming of age with road rage

It is not surprising that the daily commute is the least missed activity for people working from home during the pandemic. Driving is stressful, and most of us have experienced some form of road rage. But driving is also a supreme example of our interconnectedness. In his brilliant bit about air travel, Louis CK chides air passengers complaining about delays to take a moment and see the larger picture: the miracle that we can fly like birds. Driving is equally miraculous. Despite technological advances and stiff penalties for traffic violations, the foundation of driving continues to be the inherent trustworthiness of human beings. We trust that both the texting teen or the slow-moving octogenarian will have the presence of mind to stop, turn at the right time. We trust that even if we sometimes stumble, the other driver’s reflexes will avert a collision.

Since the margins of error to avoid accidents are infinitesimally small, every driver needs to do their part, or traffic accidents could quickly become a social problem. Driving operates on the principle of conjunctive teams, where the team’s success depends on the “weakest” link. Contrast this with flying, where the pilot, the strongest link, controls the plane. In his famous “this is water” speech, David Foster Wallace suggests that many instances of road rage can be avoided if we pause to put ourselves in the shoes (wheels) of the other person. Perhaps they are rushing home to a sick child, where every moment saved is the difference between life and death. Driving offers so many similar opportunities for compassion. I recently saw a man smilingly make the peace sign while telling a woman she was blocking his way by driving in the wrong direction in a one-way street. The instances of generous drivers letting others cross out of turn far outnumber the number of traffic lights.

Often, when waiting at a busy intersection close to work, I marvel at this supreme invention called driving. It is then easy to feel connected with all the others waiting there, trusting the rest to do their bit to ensure everyone gets to work on time. Insurance companies have sucked the humanity out of driving. But if we take a moment to acknowledge the debt we owe countless strangers along the way for letting us get to our destinations, we can appreciate the collective progress of our race. Driving then becomes a coming-of-age experience of our interconnectedness and our responsibility to be worthy of the trust bestowed on us.

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