avoiding the instinct: gesticular cancer

That one gesture, that universal conveyance of anger and defiance, that singular finger. Yet beyond what can casually be attributed to this or that surface offense or vernacular veneer, why is it so pervasive? What lies under the skin?

Looking outward: Someone aggressively weaves in and out of congested traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway with the no-holds-barred determination of getting to that McDonald’s or bank drive-thru window 90 seconds earlier. Rather than react with that all-too-common shot of disgust, rather than increase hormones and heartbeats, why not just let it pass? As difficult as it can sometimes be, love thy neighbor as thyself isn’t just some Biblical catchphrase to be tossed like so much salad dressing. Why buy into the kind of pharmaceutical-grade drama that can suck the life out of an otherwise peaceful moment? Why not consider stepping back and feeling empathy for that person, grateful that your own stomach is full, that you’ve got use of both legs, that your breathing is regular, that you’re not lying in a hospital bed?

Looking inward: You’ve just been diagnosed with an illness that promises weeks or months of treatment. You’ve just been laid off from that job of 18 years, the victim not of incompetence but of downsizing. You’ve just discovered that your spouse is having an affair and you simply cannot swallow that pill. You’ve just seen your child have a chunk of his arm bitten off by the neighbor’s unleashed pit bull, the resulting blood indelibly burned into your memory. You’ve [fill in the blank…]. Yet why take all of that out on the slowish driver in front of you? On your colleagues at work whose only offense has been their seemingly stress-free lives? On the waitress who brought you rye bread instead of whole wheat? If lashing out is the product of internal frustrations, need everyone else around you suffer from the resulting road rage, the resulting verbal abuse, the resulting altercations?

Take a step back. Diagnose what’s really going on. Then think twice about raising your hand with that gesture, or taking such piercing offense when it’s directed your way. With self-awareness, each of us can suppress this instinct from becoming viral.

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