There are a lot of annoying drivers on the road. People who drive too slowly, blocking your lane; people who drive at the exact same speed right next to each other, preventing anybody else from passing them; people who cut you off, muscling their way into your lane; people who tailgate (and, worse, people who tailgate, and then, when you move over, don’t actually pull ahead of you!); people who drive much faster than everybody else on the road, cutting in and out of different lanes.

Having said that, I don’t get annoyed at other drivers at much as I used to. Part of that is getting older and mellower; part of it, though, is that it doesn’t do me any good to get angry at other drivers. It doesn’t do me any good emotionally, and it also doesn’t do me any good as a driver.

So, these days, I try to see other drivers as context. There’s nothing I can do to affect their behavior; so I should just give up on worrying about that, and instead focus on understanding better what’s happening around me, to predict events, and to figure out how to put myself in the best situation I can given that context.

(It’s not actually true that there’s nothing I can do to affect other drivers’ behavior: mostly other drivers are doing their own thing, but my driving does affect theirs. But, again, trying to understand other drivers, including how they might react to me, is the most effective way to try to reach a good outcome.)


The first Noble Truth says that life is suffering, or at least that there’s a lot of suffering involved in life. The second Noble Truth says that craving is the origin of suffering; the third Noble Truth talks about the cessation of craving. And, finally, the fourth Noble Truth gives some pointers how to achieve that cessation.

It’s kind of a ridiculous example, but: to me, that driving example points at how I interpret those truths. It’s almost tautological, but the reason why I get annoyed when driving is that I wish other drivers would behave differently; if I can get over that and cause that craving to cease, then driving is fine. Or even interesting: getting over being annoyed at other drivers doesn’t mean that I have to be checked out. Instead, I can take the fourth truth’s advice to behave with the right mindfulness (or have the right intention and right action, or have the right concentration – take your choice!) then I can turn this into a positive experience.


The first truth says that aging is suffering, illness is suffering; unfortunately, I’ve seen more of that (some in myself, more in various family members) over the last few years than I would like. And it seems kind of callous to make an analogy between illness and the driving situation above, or to say that the suffering related to disease arises from craving: when I was in agony from problems with a disk in my back, I certainly had some cravings relevant to that situation, but the cravings weren’t the source of the pain!

But, of course, direct physical pain isn’t the only form of suffering that arises from disease: there’s the suffering of not knowing how your disease is going to play out and worrying about that, there’s the suffering of having a pretty good idea of how your disease is going to play out and worrying about that, there’s the suffering of fighting against medical bureaucracies, there’s the suffering of worrying about follow-on effects (on your family, on your job, on your finances), there’s the suffering of wishing you’d behaved differently in the past, there’s the suffering of being angry at the random chance that’s led you to this situation.

Not to minimize the seriousness and reasonableness of any of these worries: but you’ll be better off the less you focus on the worries, the closer you get to a clear-headed acknowledgement of the contingencies of the situation, and let that guide your actions and feelings. Which is a lot easier to type than to actually do, of course; again, the fourth truth gives guidance for that, but, well, it’s a long path. Sometimes I think I’m getting better (and I even feel like there are certain physical sensations in my head that correspond to this improvement, a sort of flatness in the upper rear portion of my brain); but I’m still more than capable of responding with annoyance and anger to situations, even though I can also recognize that that anger is actively getting in the way of my desire to steer those situations to certain outcomes.


One of the sources of suffering arising from illness is that it so rarely feels fair; and sometimes it seems to me that a focus on fairness is sweeping the country. You can, I think, even see this in language: I’ll now frequently hear people respond to a sentence with the single word “fair”, whereas I don’t think that was common ten or even five years ago.

The 2016 election certainly brought fairness to the fore: it seems like nobody in the country feels like they and groups that they’re part of are being treated fairly, and it showed just how starkly different people’s opinions are about what fairness means. Also, the erosion of norms bore on the question of fairness in another way: it’s painfully clear how much behavioral latitude the law and power structures allow, and the bad and even evil that can arise when people use that latitude to go far beyond what is fair.

But, as per the above, focusing on that fairness is craving that leads to suffering. Being unhappy that I (or some group that I identify with) am being treated unfairly isn’t going to change anything: it’s just a net increasing in suffering.


Except that, as the political example points out (and as the medical example points out as well, for that matter): suffering is a motivator. I said that being unhappy with unfairness isn’t going to change anything, but it’s also true that accepting unfairness also isn’t going to change anything. If you think that change in some area would be good, then change in the direction you seek is probably more likely to occur if you actually do something; so, to the extent that a lack of craving translates into passive acceptance, the lack of craving is less likely to correlate with good outcomes.

Does this mean that I think Buddhists are wrong in their analysis? Not necessarily, for a few reasons. One is that, over and over again, it feels to me like suffering linked to my response to situations doesn’t clearly lead to me changing my behavior in ways that have benefits further down the line; and I’ve seen not a few situations where that sort of suffering feels like it’s nudging me towards counterproductive behavior, e.g. towards a strategy of denial. And another is that this blog post hasn’t arisen from a deep study of Buddhism: the Buddhist bits here are based on some vague memories, a bit of googling, and a bit of Wikipedia reading. So I can’t imagine that Buddhism doesn’t have answers to these questions, and answers that are better thought out than I can produce in a bit of thinking and typing.

And, in particular, there’s some sort of analytical subtlety that I don’t yet have a grasp on. Above, I wrote “If you think that change in some area would be good”; when I originally typed that, though, it said something like “If you want change in some area”. But the word “want” feels inappropriately liked with craving; I wanted a phrasing that steps away from that linkage. Or, when I was thinking about this earlier, part of me was going to put the Buddhist point of view as leading towards just accepting whatever happens and not trying to change anything; maybe the word “trying” is wrong in that sentence, but you can always engage in a range of actions, and saying that the ones that are closest to the status quo are neutral ones while ones more distant from the status quo are linked to craving is, I think, analytically incorrect: I don’t see a priori why quieting down craving should push your actions in the direction of the status quo.

I don’t feel like I have a good analysis of this tension: the counterpoint is that it seems to me like taking an action is related to making a choice of what action to take is related to making an evaluation of which action is better is related to wanting a better outcome is related to craving. But I’m not convinced by every step in that chain; and I am convinced that too much craving can make it harder to reach good outcomes. I’m not sure if reducing craving is always the best approach, though, and I suspect that there are distinctions that I’m missing that would clarify this analysis.

Hard stuff: figuring out how to analyze it, but, most of all, figuring out how to calm down and step back.

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