I grew up with the idea that one should do good: help the unfortunate, sympathize with widows and orphans, feed the hungry, help out at soup kitchens, donate to advance medical research, and respect those who are different from you. I am sure it is true for most people. But all that seems to disappear when driving on the road to work, on school rounds, to the doctor, to visit family — suddenly everyone is in a rush and road rage is something we often have to deal with.
I was in a borrowed car on Friday with an 8-month-old baby when a pick-up truck behind me started to honk and honk. The driver honked at me for three blocks straight. I was not diving slowly, but not quickly either, and this enraged the person behind me. There were other lanes open, but mine apparently was preferred. And the pick-up truck driver was furious at me. Honk honk honk honk honk. It was hard to concentrate.
Afterwards, I thought about this. Driving accidents are the number one killer in most developed countries. If anything, it is the place where we should practice the most patience and kindness, or derech eretz. And yet often, it is where we practice the least.
A few days previous, I had seen a car run into another car at a red light. The impact cracked the first car’s bumper. The driver in the second car got out for a minute, took one look, returned to his car, and sped away. Was he looking at a cell phone instead of the car in front of him? Was he lost in thought? Was he impatient with the red light? Who knows. It was another hit-and-run accident, and I’ve seen a lot from bus windows, or even walking down the street.
Imagine if we changed this. Imagine if we all had better road habits. If drivers never checked a phone at a red light, kept their cool while driving behind bicycles and those crossing intersections without looking, accepted slow, elderly drivers as a matter of course, and generally acted as if waiting five more seconds was not the end of the world.
Maybe driving wouldn’t be the number one killer. Maybe getting to work and home wouldn’t add a jolt of ugly tension to our lives. Maybe it could be an experience of tikkun olam just as meaningful as working in a soup kitchen, or cleaning up beaches of ugly residues and layers of trash. And it is something we can do every day, anytime we want.