“Bless You” vs. “Damn You”: Compassion and Bad Driving

It’s an often-touted statistic that 90% of all drivers think they’re above average. I don’t know if that’s actually true or not but it sounds right. I’ve never heard anyone cop to being a bad driver. Which makes me think of one of my favorite When Harry Met Sally quotes: “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.”

Today in yoga we were talking about compassion and the subject of bad drivers came up. The question was raised, can we extend compassion to everyone around us, even if they’re irritating us?  Can we show compassion to that person who just cut us off in traffic?

As someone who is prone to minor fits of road rage, I struggled with this question.  I expect grace from other drivers when I make a mistake, but how often do I show grace and compassion to other drivers?  How do I know if they cut me off on purpose or just made a mistake? What if I assumed good intention?  I know I cut someone off last week, totally by accident, and as I waved an apology in the window they waved — well it wasn’t a “no problem, I know it was a mistake” hand sign, it was a tad bit more aggressive, involving one finger.

One woman in the yoga class said when she or her family is cut off in traffic, instead of cussing them out they assume it’s a person in labor and they have to get to the hospital before the baby is born.

This reminded me of my grandma.  She was, I can tell you without no qualifications, one of the greatest human beings to ever live on this earth.  I was named after her and we were very close.   When my grandma was driving and someone did something annoying like cut her off or tailgate her she would say,  “God bless you my child!”  Depending on infraction, the tone of the “bless you” would sometimes sound like “damn you” despite her kind words.  On one such occasion I asked my grandma why she said “bless you” instead of cussing them out like I felt they deserved.  She replied that if someone was driving that way, it was either an emergency or they were terrible drivers and either way, they needed God’s protection.  See this is just one reason why my grandma was awesome, she had an unlimited well of compassion, even for bad drivers.

And really, what’s the point of getting upset?  You can’t undo the traffic infraction. You’re OK right?  You didn’t crash or suffer any injuries because of the bad driver. You can get angry and let it ruin your day, or you assume good intention, show some compassion and move on with your day.

Showing compassion helps you and it helps others.  Showing compassion lowers blood pressure, decreases stress, increases our connection with others and most importantly, it’s often contagious. Maybe that person you showed compassion towards will pay it forward and be more patient when someone irritates THEM in traffic. So take a deep breath and send out some good vibes to your fellow drivers.


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