Transforming Road Rage - anger is a powerful teacher

by Rodger Sorrow, Certified Trainer

I’m zipping along the Ventura Highway headed south on US101 toward Los Angeles.  I’m happy cruising along at seventy-five miles per hour in the fast lane listening to my tunes.  Traffic is moderate and I look up into my rear view mirror and here is some jerk right on top of me.  What an idiot!  What’s wrong with this moron!  Where are the cops when you need them?  I think I’ll teach this guy a lesson.  My blood is boiling, my whole body is tight and I have a fisted grip on the steering wheel.  I’m pissed! 

Have you ever been there?  If so, then you know what I’m thinking I’ll do next.  I’ll step on the brakes and see how he likes that!  Fortunately at that moment I remembered nonviolent communication (NVC) and I remembered to breathe.  Breathe and enjoy the jackal show.  Breathe and hear my need for safety.  Breathe safety.  Place my attention on safety and connect with it.

When I do that I relax.  I’m not so angry anymore but I am scared because I want safety for me and everyone else.

What would safety do?  Safety would drive in a way that is safe for me, the vehicle behind me and those around us.  That’s what I do and I celebrate safety and using NVC.  I also notice I’m not carrying anger and frustration with me as I continue my journey.  I notice it’s relatively easy to return that place inside myself of happy cruising.

The first time I did this I wanted to shout it from the roof top, “NVC works!  Yahooooo!”    I was so excited and happy to have a little hope for working with my anger.  It had cost me so much in my connection with myself and in relationships.  Now I had some hope and was eager to apply these new skills.

Well I certainly didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to practice.  I’m driving on the freeway again.  I look into that rear view and here comes another one of those jerks!  This idiot probably expects everyone to get out of his/her way!  How thoughtless and inconsiderate!  Oh yeah!  Breathe!  Safety!  Yes, with a side order of respect and consideration please!  I pull over into the next lane and let this person pass.  I’m pleased that I got to my needs quicker this time.  I also noticed respect and consideration in addition to safety.  I liked that.

This process repeats a number of times.  I notice that gradually with practice I’m getting quicker at getting to my need when I’m triggered.  Then one day I’m out on the freeway and I look up and I don’t see a jerk and a pack of jackals coming but rather I see safety and an opportunity to contribute.  I pull over and he zooms by and then slows down and matches my speed.  He blinks his lights on and off and then zooms again.  He is gone.  I told myself that was a “thank you”.  Wow!  I’m receiving acknowledgement and appreciation out on the freeway!  I’m contributing to the safety and well being of others!  I’m meeting my own need to contribute!  This is the road I want to be on!  This is the world I want to live in!

I don’t know what the needs of the other driver are in moments like these.  Perhaps she/he is on their way to be with a loved one in the emergency ward, or they will be late for work and it will mean their job or perhaps they’re having fun cause they like to drive fast.  I don’t know what their need is but I do know that whatever it is I have those same needs at times.  And I want their needs to be met at the same time there is safety, respect and consideration of others.  

I share this story because it gives me such hope.  We can learn to respond to stimuli that trigger us with NVC.  Even when the stimuli get repeated we can breathe.  Enjoy the critical, blaming judgments we make.   Breathe and choose where we place our attention next because it’s likely to come to us quickly.  There is a lot of energy flowing so it’s important to put our attention on what we really want.  Connect with the energy and wisdom of our needs and let them guide what we say or do next.  This is what I understand to be the life serving purpose of anger. 

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