in Marginalia

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on avoiding road rage while riding a bike

Fooled by Randomness

I do not think I am reasonable enough to avoid getting angry when a discourteous driver blows his horn at me for being one nanosecond late after a traffic light turns green. I am fully aware that such anger is self-destructive and offers no benefit, and that if I were to develop anger for every idiot around me doing something of the sort, I would be long dead. These small daily emotions are not rational. But we need them to function properly. We are designed to respond to hostility with hostility. I have enough enemies to add some spice to my life, but I sometimes wish I had a few more (I rarely go to the movies and need the entertainment). Life would be unbearably bland if we had no enemies on whom to waste efforts and energy.
The good news is that there are tricks. One such trick is to avoid eye contact (through the rearview mirror) with other persons in such traffic encounters. Why? Because when you gaze into someone’s eyes, a different part of your brain, the more emotional one, is activated and engaged as a result of the interaction. I try to imagine that the other person is a Martian, rather than a human being. It works sometimes–but it works best when the person presents the appearance of being from a different species. How? I am an avid road cyclist. Recently, as I was riding along with other cyclists, slowing down traffic in a rural area, a small woman in a giant sports utility vehicle opened her window and heaped curses at us. Not only did it not upset me but I did not even interrupt my thoughts to pay attention. When I am on my bicycle, people in large trucks become a variety of dangerous animals, capable of threatening me but incapable of making me angry.

— From the chapter entitled Wax in my Ears: Living with Randomitis in Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets


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