A couple of days ago, I watched a traffic light change from red to green and, within a nanosecond, heard the insistent honking of an impatient driver. The car ahead of his had not leapt forward quickly enough.
Said car, instead of reacting to the horn, stopped dead. A very big man who had more muscle than fat came out of the driver’s side, walked to the offending car, and smashed his very big fist into the car’s hood, leaving a sizeable dent. Then he returned to his car and drove away.
I couldn’t see the face of the dented car’s driver, but his vehicle failed to move and the light turned red. More honking followed.
Part of me thought the large-fisted man had done exactly what I have wanted to do a hundred times given the same situation. Few things are more annoying than the cretin behind you who hits his horn the moment the light changes. I have, on two occasions a few years ago, deliberately stalled my car, popped open the hood, glanced at the engine, then leapt back into the driver’s seat and sped away just as the light went from yellow to red. This is the single-person version of the Chinese fire drill of our youth.
The recent incident made me think about anger, and that there seems to be a lot more of it now than even a few years ago. We are becoming an increasingly irritated society. Studies have shown we’ve grown more impatient, perhaps as a result of faster-than-ever communications that have, in turn, bred a need for faster and often ill-advised responses.
I believe there’s another problem as well. Our freedom of almost everything has slowly been eroded and every day brings the removal of yet another sliver of autonomy.
Whether it is driving from Point A to Point B in a gnarl of traffic or going cross country, we are hemmed in by rules and regulations that often seem ridiculous. Why wait two minutes at an empty crossroads for a light to turn green? Why drive a car at fifty miles an hour when it is easily capable of twice that speed? Why linger in the left go-faster lane when a laggard is blocking it and driving slowly?
These, of course, only apply to driving, and I’m sure contribute to road rage, but anger and a basic lack of propriety appear endemic nowadays. I see it in the faces of people waiting in line for a cashier, a teller, or a waiter. We are giving others less and less time to respond to our needs. Waiting has become an insult rather than a modern necessity.
At a quite expensive restaurant recently, I watched an unhappy waiter trying to talk a patron into a more expensive meal. At a computer store, a salesperson harangued an older customer into buying a replacement policy for a just-purchased computer. At a Starbucks, I listened to two young women openly-and loudly—criticize the work of the sole barista behind the bar. All this-including the car-punching—occurred within a week.
What I find particularly disconcerting is that I am among the worst of offenders. From the confines of my leased rice-burner, I holler at people to move, to turn, to get the lead out! I have, however, the good sense to flash my one-hand gestures below the dash, and keep the windows rolled up. I smile at the elderly lady painstakingly counting nickels, dimes and pennies at the checkout. And when the car bearing New Mexico plates turns left in front of me, I keep my honking to a civilized three-seconds. Like Teddy Roosevelt, I believe politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience.