Maybe like me you suffer from road rage. I say suffer because I don’t know anyone who gets in the car with the goal of becoming angry. Fortunately my case is relatively mild. Road rage is probably an overstatement but I am frequently miffed when I am driving. One of the goals of my work is empowering people to gain better control of their emotions, especially anger. I have facilitated numerous group and individual counseling sessions to try to encourage people along their goal of gaining control of difficult emotions. Every now and again I am reminded of just how difficult controlling anger can be.
One of the most universal provocations in our society is bad drivers. Nearly every day on the road we encounter circumstances that increase our stress and anger. I am grateful for these situations because they remind me of a very simple lesson. Often what we want to do the least, is what we need to do the most. The other day I was driving my normal route to work. As I rounded a curve I encountered a car that was parked so that it was blocking both the bike lane and part of my lane. I had to step on the brakes to avoid hitting the car. Fortunately traffic was light so I was able to switch into the other lane with no difficulty. Immediately I was angry. How inconsiderate of that driver! How irresponsible! Dangerous! Selfish! Before long I had turned a nameless, faceless driver into my arch nemesis.
I was reminded of just how difficult it can be to control emotions. I teach it on an almost daily basis and yet I am nearly unraveled by one crummy driver. I imagine what I would say to people I work with if they found themselves in the same situation. “Take a deep breath. Ask yourself if it is worth getting upset about…” I think this is generally good advice. The problem is that anger can feel really good. It can feel good to get indignant about all the bad drivers out there. When it comes to anger the last thing I want to do is take a deep breath and demonstrate patience or grace, which is exactly what is needed. This doesn’t just apply to anger. How about patience? It is easy to be patient when I am getting everything I want when I want it. The challenge comes when things are not going my way. How about forgiveness? It is easy to believe in forgiveness as a concept, especially when we haven’t been mistreated. The difficulty comes when we have been treated maliciously. The last thing I want to do in that case is forgive and yet it is what is most beneficial.
I haven’t found a magical potion for making the right thing the easy thing. I have found that we can get better with practice. Maybe we can’t snap our fingers and snuff out our anger but perhaps we can take 2 minutes to get over it instead of 5. Maybe I can’t demonstrate the patience of Gandhi but perhaps I can be a bit more patient today then I was yesterday. Maybe I am not ready to forgive today but maybe I will be tomorrow. What is most necessary is often the last thing we want to do. Everyday is an opportunity to bring the right thing a bit closer to becoming the easy thing.