The Bird

MY FELLOW MOTORISTS, I want to ask a question that’s been bothering me for some time: When you give another driver (or pedestrian) the finger, what exactly are you hoping to accomplish?


This was my thought this morning as I pulled out of my neighborhood and into the stream of rush hour traffic, which was moving. I misjudged the speed of the car approaching in the right lane, but I didn’t need for its driver to lay on the horn for five whole seconds, restating the obvious. I urged my lumbering old Jeep to accelerate as the car passed me, and noted that the driver was a woman. This woman apparently felt she had not sufficiently registered her ire with her horn, and as she sped away, she extended her whole left arm out the driver’s side window with her middle finger raised in an angry salute for me (and everyone else) to see.


Frankly, the use of this gesture puzzles me. What, exactly, did she hope to convey? Maybe, “How dare you?” or perhaps, “I shall never forgive you for extending my commute for 4 extra seconds”? Or is it more personal than that? “From the relative safety of my vehicular bubble, I send you hateful thoughts that I would never do were we to meet on the sidewalk!” Maybe it’s simply, “You, madam, are an asshole.” Or just, “Learn to drive.”

I know it’s a nonverbal way of saying “Fuck you.” But I think there’s more to it.

Oftentimes, those who express anger towards another are actually angry with themselves. And, they may have trouble handling stress. Maybe she was speeding because she left the house late and her boss warned her that one more tardy incident would get her fired. Or it could be, she and her passenger were fighting. Did she not sleep well last night? Did she wake up with back pain? Did she find this morning after pouring her coffee that someone else had used the last of the creamer and didn’t replace it? Did her son forget to clean the litterbox again?

(Sorry, that last one was me. But gosh, I didn’t let it ruin my day.)

We all experience frustrations as we live our lives, but how do we handle them?

In the case of this morning’s automotive interaction, it’s all speculation, of course. But what I do know is that when someone gives me the finger, while it conveys displeasure, what it doesn’t do is make me want to change my behavior to appease a stranger. I’m a safe, confident driver. My record speaks for itself. But we all misjudge other drivers at times, which is why it’s important to drive with awareness and respond defensively to avoid collisions. Nobody wants to be in an accident. I didn’t pull out when I did in order to cause a wreck, any more than I did to aggravate that driver. It wasn’t even a close call. So instead of assuming I’m an asshole (and emphatically telling me so), the driver could have applied her brake to slow down, lightly beeped her horn if she thought I hadn’t see her, and simply rolled her eyes at that old lady driving that Jeep too slow. In a blink, the moment would have passed and we both would have been on with our days.

If you are a bird-flipper, I urge you to think twice before you employ that gesture. Consider instead approaching all driving interactions with an assumption that the other driver is not acting with malice towards you. Most likely, it isn’t a personal affront. She is not an asshole. She knows how to drive. You can’t properly educate her from your car-bubble anyway. Give your fellow driver a bit of extra space, and also a measure of grace. Assume she is trying her best. Take a long deep breath in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. And if you are provoked, you don’t need to respond. Write about it instead.


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