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To the Woman Who Flipped Me Off: I Reframe You


Ah yes, flying the bird, as the Shepherd family household calls it. Something that I think perhaps all of us have done on occasion. For me, I have a strict internal code to never fly the bird unless in jest. Does it mean I haven’t flown a cheeky one where I think another driver won’t see? Not at all. But what happened yesterday was the 3rd thing that crossed my mind when I woke up this morning, right after “my feet are cold” and “I wonder what time it is?”.


Heading downtown for some errands, we had to stop in traffic for about 5 minutes just outside of Kentville as they are doing some major construction to the main bridge in and out and have been doing so for months. In the last month, it has consistently led to 5+ minute wait times to get through. My partner Adam was driving and we simply pulled up to the car in front at a red light. We had been sat there for a few mins with a line of traffic behind us when a car rolled passed us, slowed down, and a woman looked me, the passenger, dead in the eyes with her middle finger up and rolled on to slip towards the largely obstructed right turn lane. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Adrenaline chills went through my entire body and I froze. It was so unexpected.


There are certain aggressive driving situations where it is almost expected you're going to see a middle finger response, but this, 3 mins into waiting at a red light, no movement, in construction, it was so out of the blue, and only I saw. My first thought was “what did we do wrong?” and I could only think, we could have been a couple of feet closer to the car in front. As my husband hadn’t seen, I audibly said “Nope, I’m not going to say it” trying to chant some kind of autopilot calming mantra in the moment and to avoid having to deal with my husband’s limbic reaction in response. But when my husband responded with “What? Did you pick your nose and she saw or something?”, like seriously? What prompted that of all things? I could not hold it back and I blurted out “Did you not see that? She flipped us off”. But he was so dumbstruck, even he didn’t immediately go into fight like I thought he would. Seconds later I chanted the one mantra that did work “Nope, she’s not going to ruin my day... I need to reframe”.


So what do I know? Why? And why now? But given the 2-second interaction, I had to make some assumptions. It was 4:01pm and she was turning right towards the medical centre/hospital. My guess is she was late for an appointment or maybe even work. Biological stress (if for health reasons), emotion stress (anger, maybe guilt) cognitive stress (time pressures), social stress (disapproving boss or secretary), prosocial stress (maybe letting someone down). No one loves traffic and construction. That’s a given. But we were also on storm watch the first half of the week for Hurricane Teddy. And let’s add on the heightened stress load of being 6 months into a pandemic.


Thinking of Kahneman’s work that Stuart outlines in REFRAMED Chapter 4: Age of Reason(s), my System 1, Limbic response to this situation was derogatory, "what a horrible person", "how dare she?", maybe a witty passive-aggressive remark. System 2, Blue Brain response, was that she was self-regulating. It was maladaptive, but it gave her the dopamine hit she needed to carry on when she was in the bottom right of Thayer.


She didn’t ruin my day. Self-Reg made sure of that. But whoever you were, you are on my mind. I hope your day ended in a better place than where we met yesterday and I hope you can come learn Self-Reg one day, I promise it helps.


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Aviva Dunsiger
Aviva Dunsiger
16 dic 2020

I love the traffic light, Liz! It would certainly make me feel better on the road. I wonder about others.

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Liz Shepherd
Liz Shepherd
16 dic 2020

Sorry I didn't see this sooner Marilyn! You make a great point about being a stranger. Knowing that you won't see that person again or that person is not part of your circle makes sense both evolutionarily in keeping them away from you but also in terms of not necessarily feeling that connection and accountability to them, like you would your Gran. So interesting.

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Hi Liz,

Something similar happened to me very close to same date as you. I was taking a neighbor to day surgery at a hospital in London. I was turning left onto a busy street. I looked both ways, saw nothing coming and felt it was a good time to make the turn. As I made the turn, in my rear view mirror I noticed a vehicle right behind me, the driver swerved to the right, window down, head out the window shaking fist and yelling at me. Next, the driver turned into the exact same place as I needed to go. I pulled in, got out of my car and this driver who was not outside continued to shake…

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Liz Shepherd
Liz Shepherd
30 sept 2020

Just saw this post about heart-shaped traffic lights in Iceland. I wonder if it has been helpful in reducing stressors on the road... https://9gag.com/gag/aj9RRQ1


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Liz Shepherd
Liz Shepherd
29 sept 2020

Ha Joe, no offence taken. That reminds me of a video of one of our family friends as a baby, he did the same thing, oh did we laugh when we saw it!


It's funny a few days on I am totally unphased by this encounter, but in the moment it is so hard and all energy-consuming. Truly it was the reflecting and the "why? why now?" and writing this piece that allowed the soft eyes and for me to overcome my knee jerk judgments.


And thanks Melissa and Aviva! It is weird how on the road some of our social rules/courtesies go out of the window. Adam and I were chatting and said, I bet if we met her…

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