Monday, November 05, 2007

Day 4: An exercise in anger (mis?)management 

Consider yourself in this role: you’re a young woman, probably in your mid 30s. You’re driving your two young children to school, in your big black 4WD status symbol. It’s great having a 4x4 – you can see over the tops of all those other little vehicles, people get out of your way, and you know that if you should happen to be involved in a collision, you’re well protected and the other car is almost bound to come off worse. It’s big and heavy, but it’s an automatic so it does all the hard work for you.

Your road is only a country lane, and the quickest way to the school is to go down a busy dual carriageway. You pull up and wait for a gap in the traffic. Just in front is a motorcyclist, also waiting. It’s a cold morning – the coldest so far this year; only just above freezing - and the auto choke is causing the engine to rev higher than normal tickover, so unless you hold your foot on the brake, the car creeps forward.

You’re very close to the motorcyclist, but your car is so big and boxy, and the wing higher than the bike, so you can’t really see just how close you are. Without thinking, you take your foot off the brake ready to move off. Unexpectedly, the car suddenly lurches forward and, unseen by you, your front wing knocks hard into the panniers on the bike. Bike and rider are thrown to the ground.

You’re horror struck; you had no idea you were that close. And now the motorcyclist has picked himself and is walking menacingly towards you, his body language shouting anger at you. You’re terrified; you don’t know what to do, you just sit there, frozen in horror. He vents some his anger by taking a swipe at your door mirror, knocking it out of line. His face is inches from yours, the other side of the window, but hidden behind dark glasses under his helmet. Still you sit, petrified, unable to move, but tears streaming down your face. Now he’s hammering with his fist on the window, swearing and shouting insults at you, yelling at you to wind the window down.

You do so, and suddenly the words come in a rush “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry – I could have killed you”. He continues ranting for a while, then turns away to pick up his bike, and takes off his helmet and dark glasses. He turns towards you, and you see with some surprise that he’s not the archetypal young tearaway you imagined behind those dark glasses; the eyes that stare into yours are, for the moment, hard and cold, but show also a level of human experience and understanding which only comes with years. He may be angry, but he’s not about to assault you. Your relief though is minimal. How could such an ordinary morning have gone so wrong?

You’ve guessed, of course, that the motorcyclist was me. No, I wasn’t hurt – after all, I only fell sideways and I had full protective clothing on - and as far as I can tell, the bike suffered only superficial damage – a scratched mirror housing, scratched engine protector, and a bent gear shifter. I guess I was lucky though not to get a foot trapped under the bike. I apologised to the young woman for my language and for shouting at her; she was much, much more shaken up by it all than I was. “Take care” I said as she turned to go back to her car and her children after we’d exchanged details, and I meant it. All the same, I also meant it when I said I hoped it was a lesson to her, and in that context perhaps my anger and her fear will help drive that lesson home.

It worries me sometimes just how much suppressed anger I find in myself in situations like this. I express anger so rarely; I think what must happen is that the small amounts of unexpressed anger somehow accumulate until something triggers a volcanic explosion.

What made me angry in this case was the senselessness of it all –it was entirely avoidable, and entirely her fault. Now I have to report it to my insurance company, and on every form that asks “Have you had any accidents, claims or convictions in the last five years?” I shall also report it to the police, as her front number plate was missing, meaning that she was breaking the law.

Righteous indignation is all very well, but I may have overstepped the mark. All in all, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

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