The more I read, and think and reflect and live on this crazy planet full of wonderful, fragile, struggling fellow humans I am convinced that the only two driving principles behind what we do are love and fear.
Perhaps because I am reflecting on these things, I see them. Maybe they have been there all along. Actually, I am sure they have, but I was probably too busy judging and labelling what I saw on the surface to try to understand it.
Anger, shame, pride, entitlement, jealousy---all born of fear, played out in front of me this past Thursday. Within the span of one hour, I witnessed three displays of fear as anger.
First was a violent fist fight between two men outside a coffee shop. One man walked in front of another man's car as he tried to exit the drive through, delaying him leaving and eliciting honks from those who waited behind him. The driver eventually pulled over and exited the car, charging at the man who had been walking and who had felt safe enough to tell the driver to "chill, dude" as he sauntered by.
Waves of fear and anger engulfed everyone who saw the swinging start. Fight or flight ignited in each of us.
I was in my car passing the scene. I sped up to get away. Flight for me.
The offended car's passenger yelled at the men over the roof of the now parked vehicle - fight was her choice. The same chemicals flowed through our bodies, just manifesting themselves in different ways.
Five minutes later, waiting to pick up Oldest at the GO Train station, questioning whether I should have called 911, I had a front row seat to a long, loud, aggressive verbal assault when one driver felt the person in front of him should move out of the pick up zone and circle around.
When his two light taps on the horn went ignored, the man stormed from his car and starting yelling at another man through his rolled down window
Watching, I wondered if I was in for another fist fight demonstration, especially when another man exited the first car to join his fellow "yeller". Fear is contagious.
The irony was perhaps lost on the angry man who, after yelling through the window for several minutes, pulled away, and then stopped his car to return and yell some more, blocking several other drivers from being able to exit the pick up location.
Finally, on the drive home with Oldest retrieved, I slowed to miss hitting a mother duck trailed by her toddling family as they attempted to venture out onto the busy road.
I waved to the driver behind me, an apology--- to be met with an offensive gesture and a lot of lip wagging.
Adrenalin still coursing through my veins from my earlier experiences of course prompted me to turn around in the driver's seat and make some of my gestures of my OWN. None of us are immune.
Patience is a virtue--I've heard. Patience to wait perhaps, patience with the fact that we cannot possibly understand what goes through the mind of other people (or ducks...), patience with ourselves--virtuous patience.
A virtue, which I have always interpreted as being Saint-like, seems for the few (how many living Saints are there really...?) And well frankly, you would have to be a Saint to not be affected by that one hour's events.
We are hardwired to react to fear. It saved our ancestors from being eaten by saber tooth tigers and keeps us from stepping out into traffic, like that duck.
So after some research, I am much more comfortable with Aristotle's definition of virtue :
Aristotle defined a virtue as a point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other. However, the virtuous action is not simply the "mean" (mathematically speaking) between two opposite extremes. As Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics: "at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue." This is not simply splitting the difference between two extremes. For example, generosity is a virtue between the two extrema of miserliness and being profligate. Further examples include: courage between cowardice and foolhardiness and confidence between self-deprecation and vanity. In Aristotle's sense, virtue is excellence at being human.
Excellence at being human. Fear exists for a reason. To keep us safe. There is no perfect response but somewhere along the dichotomy of responses I can choose to accept that I may never know, nor understand what someone else is going through (they may never understand it themselves).
I can however, remember to be a little more "human" in my acceptance that we are all human and are all trying to do our very best, even when we are not sure how.