The awkward silence ensued when I said that changing lanes without signaling is worse than the massacre at Columbine High School
. The proposition was disturbing to the roomful of relatives at Christmastime but it was, nonetheless, both figuratively and literally true.
With all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over spree shootings and random violence it seems that nobody really wants to address the core issue of casual cruelty. Well-focused rage will always grab the headlines and distract the masses but the root cause of such displays is never far beneath the surface. The young murderers in Colorado were driven, by their own admission, by little more than the taunting of their classmates and the culture that encouraged it.
If there is anyone left in America who doesn't understand the motivation behind these horrible dramas it is for lack of honest effort. The small stones of cruelty you cast today cause unfathomable ripples and result, with increasing frequency, in the pockets of local horror you see on CNN. If you cut someone off in traffic today or if you were rude to a telemarketer on the phone, you are responsible for the killings at Columbine.
I invented road rage
. I'm not proud of this fact but the sincerity of my essay depends on the confession
I was sixteen and my driver's license was three days old. The complexities of operating an automobile held my full attention, from the ten o'clock two o'clock grip on the wheel right up to the faithful use of the turn signal. I scrupulously kept a full car-length distance for every ten miles an hour of speed and made a full, three-second pause at every stop sign. They showed us a Disney film in driver's education class called "Courtesy is Contagious" and I adopted the movie title as my driving mantra.
I was rolling down a hill at twenty-eight miles per hour, riding the brakes slightly to stay within the posted limit of thirty. The fact that my foot was on the break pedal was the only thing that prevented a terrible collision. The other car was waiting to exit the driveway of the Apostolic Bible Institute at the bottom of the hill. The driver saw me approaching and was clearly debating whether or not to cut in front of me or wait for my car to pass the driveway entrance.
The car inched closer to the street, braking, creeping forward then repeating the process. I passed the point where I could safely slow to accommodate the other car and at that moment the driver succumbed to the darker angels of his or her nature and hit the accelerator. To save a few milliseconds of driving time, or perhaps to gain pole position at the next stoplight, this ignoramus had risked both of our lives.
I stomped the brake pedal to the floor with both feet and with tires squealing, avoided impact with the other car by inches. Courtesy may be contagious but so is idiocy. When my heart returned from my stomach and I regained control of my vehicle I was seeing red. I noticed stickers all over the back of the offending vehicle indicating a vicarious relationship with various police agencies, which only served to fuel my anger.
I decided to follow the car until it stopped and confront the reckless driver face to face. If it was a man I was prepared to punish his impertinence with fisticuffs, if a woman, with a stern lecture. Road rage is too polite a term for my vexation. I followed the car for miles before I realized that the driver recognized my intentions and chose to keep moving to prevent the confrontation. My temper cooled after following the car for twenty minutes or so and the better angels of my nature intervened and halted the chase.
When I returned home from school a few days later my mother handed me a calling card from the local chief of police. She said that they had been to the house earlier that day and that they needed to interview me about my participation in a stalking incident.
With high drama the Chief of Police pulled out his wallet and showed me a photograph of his daughter and asked me if I recognized her. I told him honestly that I did not. He told me I had been stalking her and that I may not have committed any crime yet but he would put me on their list of suspects to be dragged in for questioning in every case of sexual impropriety.
I wish now that I had the courage to stand up to The Man and explain why I had followed his daughter's car that night but I did not. I was intimidated by the roomful of badges and guns and the building full of cages. I was sixteen years old and they were telling me that I would be marked for life as a sex pervert because the dangerous driver happened to be female. In previous dealings with the police during my hoodlum youth I had internalized the first rule of the path of least resistance; deny everything. I instinctively disavowed any memory of following her intentionally and intimated that his daughter may simply be a little bit paranoid.
I curse myself to this day for not summoning the courage to stand up for myself and tell him that his daughter was the rogue who deserved punishment. I will never know whether or not she eventually caused the death of an innocent for my inaction.
"The Golden Rule
" smacks of a false idol crafted in precious metal. Do unto others as they would do unto you is too easily interpreted as do unto others before they do unto you. The eastern concept of karma
provides a more constructive framework for correct behavior and cultural serenity. If we knew that our smallest transgressions were to be written in ink on our own ledger, to be paid for in full at a future date, our attention to a clean slate would be total. Western culture perpetuates the nonsensical and insidious belief that the balancing of the books occurs after our death and that we alone are affected by our actions.
"We," in the largest sense, are one organism. We determine our fate and that of our fellows and hold sole ownership of every last ripple in this pond.
Every now and then casual cruelty kills overtly and we all agree to ignore the truth and call it a car accident or a suicide. For every spurned lover or disgruntled employee there is a spurner and a disgruntler. For every sad, defeated child there is a grinning bully. For most traffic fatalities there is a selfish bastard who has, in some small way, denied the humanity of his fellow motorist. We can't imagine why we live in a world where murderous violence is the order of the day, yet most of us need only look in the mirror to find the problem and the solution.
Think about karma the next time you drive your car and for Heaven's sake use your turn signal.