There is no ‘God’ in Buddhism to father and take care of the people. People have to rely on other people for that. And therein lies the difference in approach to road etiquette between those of a Christian faith and those who follow the wisdom of the man who found enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
The inter-connectedness of all beings is a given in Buddhism. This is why the first monks to visit the West were so appalled at our propensity to loathe and criticise ourselves. They viewed self-hatred as violence against the whole, meaning other people as well. Which is why Buddhists would never intentionally ram another driver on the road, since it is not fate taking care of the outcome, it is each person looking out for the other. That, plus they know karma bites!
In Sri Lanka, I witnessed with awe people gaily waiving goodbye to friends as they throttled their motorcycles deep into 16-lane traffic without looking once over their shoulders. What did people behind do? Scream, swear, abuse, demand an impromptu punch up? Grab the shotgun from the back window of the pick-up? No. They remained unperturbed as they braked gently to swerve around the carefree waver without a single flinch, the incident never to be thought of again, apart from the millisecond taken to negotiate it with such grace.
In Vietnam, I rubbed my disbelieving eyes as a motorbike rider talking to a friend accidently ran into a cart attached to the back of an ox, which happened to be plodding through a thick swarm of traffic at an angle perpendicular to the flow. The wheel fell off the back of the wooden cart. The well-dressed motorcyclist calmly dismounted her bike, helped the farmer put the wheel back on, and they politely waved as they continued on. As far as I could make out they did not exchange a word. Where was the suppressed violence? The screeching abuse? The demand that someone must be blamed or shamed?
I come from a family where driving ‘like Jack Brabham’ (whoever he is) is considered a necessary skill if you wish to avoid ridicule, back seat driving and impatient sighs from your passengers. In other words, if you can get to your destination three milliseconds quicker by taking back street corners on two wheels, then do it. Tips on how to avoid getting arrested for speeding were handed down as family lore. Losing my license at age 19 was not considered shameful so much as ‘ridiculous’ the police picked on a young girl.
Australians in general often enter a road as though entering a gladiator’s arena. Take no prisoners, there will only be one winner! As far as I can make out, in South East Asia, no-one is particularly bothered by your road ‘performance’. Locals are busy enjoying themselves on the way to their destinations despite intensely chaotic traffic. The idea of the road being a setting for a power display has not yet taken hold. Neither has the idea of saving entire moments by driving like a dangerous lunatic.
Nearly losing my life when a drunk driver ran over the front of my car on a bridge gave me many months and years of rehabilitation to consider the wisdom and necessity of this wild approach to driving. I wondered how road rage was related to bullying. After all, people seem to feel free to behave in ways they never would in ‘real life’ when they are behind the wheel. It is as though some of us feel ‘being busy’ (oh how tired I am of that concept!) justifies breaking rules and abusing strangers. Such self-importance! This selfish individualism now seems very poisonous to me. And actually, science is showing that it literally is poisoning us.
Neuroscience is demonstrating through brain scans that the constant activation of the alarm part of our brains, known as the amygdala, or ‘Amy’ as one my clever patients calls his, is extremely harmful for both our mental and physical health. Anytime we perceive a challenge or threat, Amy, thinking she is providing much-needed resources, switches on. This causes a myriad of changes in the mind and body that help you to escape or confront danger more readily, and is hence known as the ‘fight or flight response’.
Amygdala activation is very helpful for dealing with short-term danger. However, we know that many autoimmune, cardiac, and other physical disorders are potentiated by the constant activation of this response. It is now also emerging that depression, anxiety and other psychological difficulties are very much adversely affected in the same way.
Our challenge is to help ‘Amy’ rest when she is not needed. Not so easy when everything from driving to the corner store to getting the kids to school on time is perceived as a dire challenge worthy of invoking the fight or flight response. I love this very funny short rap about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igcg6UVeVps (the first minute or so).
Whatever our religious stance, I like the idea of each person taking care of the whole in all arenas of life. There is strong evidence to show that a sense of positive connection to others greatly enhances our resilience to mood problems. The added bonuses of better health and relationships are pretty enticing too.
Buddhist philosophy suggests each and every part of life should be relaxed and mindful. Seem impossible? Let’s chat. To paraphrase John Lennon, imagine living life in peace. Woo hoo ooo oo ooh. Yeh!