In the parking lot at the mall, two women had their sights set on the same space. But instead of one driver courteously yielding to the other, obscenities were shouted as one attempted to assault the other. Police were summoned to the incident, which was reported as an act of road rage.
A while back this isolated occurrence of bad behavior would have been bizarre. Today it's seen as commonplace. A survey of Americans taken two years ago showed that nearly 8 in 10 respondents believed that lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem. Sixty percent said the problem was getting worse.
But perceptions don't match reality. Attention-grabbing headlines aside, injury and accident rates on US roadways have actually been edging down. What has reached epidemic proportions is the media's use of the inflammatory term rage - with road rage and anger rather than civility and patience becoming the norm.
What we shouldn't lose sight of is that a confrontational frame of mind is nothing more than that - a frame of mind. And minds can change. We're not hard-wired to be hostile beings, however much the hype suggests otherwise.
The question then becomes, How does one get to a better frame of mind and stay there? How do we see that patience, respect, understanding, forgiveness, and the like, are so abundant and free-flowing among us that they extinguish anger before it develops, like a building's sprinkler system that automatically quenches the fire?
A good place to begin is with the deeper connection that exists between ourselves and these anger- extinguishing qualities. They ultimately originate in the Creator, who made each of us in His likeness, in the infinite goodness that is the divine Spirit. What this Creator-creation relationship means is that we inherently have much greater resources and a far greater capacity for defeating anger; a kinder, more merciful nature belongs to us than we realized. If you think about it, this utterly compassionate and spiritual nature ought to be what we automatically draw on and express and come to expect from others, whether we're casually sitting at Starbucks reading the newspaper or hurriedly negotiating with other motorists for the same parking space.
Imagine what would happen if we took just a few moments before heading out the door to reflect on our intimate connection to the all-loving and undisturbed Spirit - and then held to that ideal. How much calmer that commute home from work or that encounter at the store would be if, at the outset, this ideal governed our behavior. Recognizing the good effect of maintaining such a state of thought, Mary Baker Eddy, the author of "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," advised: "We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives" (page 248). Wouldn't a rage-free life qualify as a perfect model?
So instead of letting reports of aggressive behavior shape our perception of society, why not take a preventive step and invest a few moments in reflection and prayer before launching into the day. The effect can only be beneficial. Any time we remain calm in spite of stressful circumstances, we communicate to the world that anger can be mastered. Every time that patience prevails over confrontation, we confirm the existence of a higher nature and give society a better example of real manhood and womanhood.
No one is saying that rage will magically disappear overnight. But having better thought models and regularly aligning ourselves with them can turn the tide. And with even modest progress in this direction it will be a kinder world.
A soft answer
turneth away wrath.