(and Machismo’s Dirty Little Secret)
Don’t you feel it’s a kind of weakness when the car behind you is tailgating — when you feel like they’re somehow “pushing” you to go faster on this scenic road through the pine woods — and instead of ignoring them, instead of enjoying the beauty and the air, you find yourself speeding up as though to accommodate them! You imagine you’re lessening the focus on your slowness, you imagine your surge in velocity makes them less unhappy with you…
How annoying. I’m ashamed but sometimes I find myself doing something very like this. On other days, to reduce the pressure, I make a point of repeatedly using hard-to-find turnouts or pulling onto the shoulder when it exists, to let a bunch of cars pass so that I can continue on my way peacefully enjoying where I am until the next line of cars creeps up.
There have been times when I argued with myself: “Hey, these are people I’ll never see again, people I will never meet! There is no reason to worry over what they might think of me.”
There are other times when I’m ready to fight: “Oh, so you don’t like twenty miles an hour? Try ten!” Wait — is that how you inspire road rage?
Part of this unpleasantness, to be sure, is about some benighted notion of consideration, as though if I don’t go faster or pull over I’m not merely holding up this insistent tailgater but ruining some good people’s lives. While giving in to an aggressive and obnoxious safety-flouting tailgater whose thirst for speed can never be satisfied just encourages him, there are, to be sure, extreme cases where the need for true consideration is clear-cut — for example when there are 4 or 5 cars behind you. No doubt you’ve been on the other side of this — behind the tourist trying to read a map and looking around for landmarks…
But the other, more insidious part drills down to a deep-buried vein of machismo. It’s as though I’m afraid they’ll think I’m some scared, coddled little city-boy-wimp, afraid to go too fast — and that their thinking so will somehow unearth or connect to what I truly think about myself (!). Machismo is about being afraid — about what’s under the bluster and cover-up. I’m supposed to be tough and hard-nosed. That’s the Training and I’m not measuring up. To feel something like that and not be able to face it down feels altogether shameful. But such feelings exist — even for someone who’s worked so hard and so long to be an Impeccable Warrior; there’s no point pretending otherwise. It’s some help to grasp, “So, that’s how this experience” — when it is allowed to come into awareness — “feels.” How it feels to get to this circumstance with no happy way out, no easy or foolproof fix.
The big break here is, letting the feeling come into awareness. Whatever the feeling. You don’t need to let it control you. Once you’ve ID’d it and named it, you’ve stripped it of much of its power. You’ve wielded your pickax and jarred loose another chunk of the naked truth, you’ve added another fistful of freedom to your world.
© Jerry Kurtz
How do you deal with this? Do female and male drivers react differently? Please separate and label your various answers as “Honest” and “Dishonest.”