The car horn loudly announces his displeasure.
I look at the man in my rearview mirror again. I’m no lip reader but I’ve watched a lot of TV. I’m pretty sure he was screaming “FUCK YOU!” and “ASSHOLE!” at me. I’m 100% sure that’s what he was screaming.
The sin, the crime against humanity that set off this man’s meltdown was this: I put on my turn signal and crossed into the left hand lane of the road. The guy behind me, in a large Dodge pickup truck, was accelerating. There was plenty of room in the lane I changed into but I was traveling slightly slower than the Angry Guy in the Dodge pickup. My actions caused this man to either gently depress the brake pedal or to lift his foot off the gas.
Obviously I was a terrible person.
Angry Guy reacted to my lane change with such venom, you would have thought I insulted his wife or his mother or both. The guy drove aggressively, getting dangerously close to my rear bumper, having to slam on his brakes at the slightest decrease in speed to keep from crashing into my car.
I felt that heat around my neck that rises when you are in a confrontation.
I saw the truth of the situation.
The Angry Guy has a shitty life. He made the decisions that he made and his life sucks. He probably gets mad at every little thing. He is unhealthy. Like most Americans he probably doesn’t exercise and sweat, which releases pent up energy and toxins. He probably doesn’t read to learn new things about this fascinating Universe we live in. He probably doesn’t sit and wonder at the beauty of life.
Angry Guy probably spends a lot of time sitting on a couch watching TV, complaining, and drinking and eating too much, and blaming everyone else except himself for his problems.
Angry Guy in Dodge pickup truck probably loses his cool every time he operates his vehicle. Angry Guy is a sad sad man.
“Fuck this guy” I thought. I could not let his obnoxious behavior influence my behavior. If I had screamed obscenities back at Angry Guy, then Angry Guy would have won. Angry Guy would have brought me down to his level. I refused.
Often I recite in my head Marcus Aurelius’ quote from his book The Meditations:
“So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine.”
It’s such as simple, useful, and powerful idea yet it is very unpopular. It’s in our instinct to react to aggression with aggression. Often that reaction is just giving into weakness. If I had reacted to Angry Guy by driving aggressively and screaming obscenities, then that guy’s problem and character becomes mine. I refused.
That day I’d taken a jog around the lake next to my apartment. I had read pages of a fascinating book (The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin, 700 pages!). I had made my body and mind sweat and I got to experience beauty.
I doubt Angry Guy’s day was anything like mine. His character and actions were not mine.
I chose to react to weakness with strength. I chose to ignore Angry Guy in big Dodge pickup truck. I acted like he didn’t exist.
That may have made Angry Guy even angrier because misery loves company and I left him all alone. All I know is Angry Guy stayed very angry.
Angry Guy got in the right hand lane and passed me. As he was making the pass he rolled down his window, threw his left hand in the air with the middle finger extended, looked at me and screamed “FUCK YOU!” a few more times.
About a half mile down the road Angry Guy turned back into the left lane then maneuvered left again into the left turn lane. All that anger and effort was to get to the grocery store one or two seconds faster. As I passed Angry Guy, who was stopped in the turn lane to the grocery store, the driver of the SUV in front of me honked his horn, raised his left hand with middle finger extended, and yelled “Fuck You!” to Angry Guy as he passed him in the turn lane. The SUV was the vehicle in front of Angry Guy when I turned into the left lane to become the vehicle in front of Angry Guy.
I just shook my head. Anger is contagious. People that get super pissed off at minor driving headaches, like gently applying the brakes so you don’t run into the vehicle in front of you, are missing out on the good life.
I used to be right there with Angry Guy. I used to let minor inconveniences upset me. I always met aggression with more aggression. I made a lot of mistakes. I could have been Angry Guy if only I had made different decisions.
Being able to remain calm under stress is a valuable skill. I was not able to obtain this measure of patience and calm simply by reading Marcus Aurelius’ The Meditations.
It was not that easy. First I had to wallow in depths of despair and self pity. I knew I wanted to live a better life but I didn’t know how. I started reading. I read hundreds of books.
Then the avalanche crushed me and annihilated my ego. Then I cried a lot and depended on doctors, friends, and family to survive.
Then I read a hundred or so more books.
It is only through the Adversity that I’ve faced that I’ve learned to “not sweat the small stuff.”
The knowledge was gained through experience.
How to apply practical philosophy in your life:
One definition of philosophy is: calmness of temper and judgment.
So how do you achieve calmness of temper and judgment so you don’t end up like Angry Guy?
It’s a process. You’ll need to start by trying to live a healthy and balanced life. You’ll need to work on your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical bodies. This is James Altucher’s idea of the Daily Practice.
You have to work to achieve calm. It will come but first you have to put in work. Reading the works of Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Charlie Munger will help on your journey.
But the most important development comes from the entire process and your self-examination.