Thursday, April 03, 2014

“I’d Like to See you Try!”: Primary Adaptive Anger in Glasgow Taxi Drivers

Entry for 3 April 2014:

At 9:30 this morning, the taxi driver arrived to take me to Glasgow Airport for my latest EFT training gig in the Netherlands.  The streets in Hyndland aren’t very wide and the taxi driver didn’t pull very far over to the left (he said later that parking is so bad in Hyndland that he always double parks in order to leave the parking spaces for the residents).  Suddenly, a red sports car appeared out of nowhere behind him and couldn’t easily get around him.  There were two young guys in it, and the driver honked loudly and repeatedly as the taxi man got out of the car to help me with my suitcase.  The taxi driver, 60, spectacled, bald and bulky, told the young guy to calm down.  Red sports car driver then rolled down his window and exploded with a torrent of foul language.  The taxi driver told him to wait, whereupon the young man threatened to get out of his car and punch the older man.  The taxi driver looked the young man over, and said firmly: “I’d like to see you try!”  This produced a further stream of invective, but no action from red sports car driver other than to back up and begin trying to manoeuvring his fancy car around the taxi driver’s vintage red Skoda. “I’m going to take your mirror off,” said the young hothead.  “Go ahead!”, said the taxi driver, knowing that new red sports car had more to lose by the old Skoda.  The young sports car driver managed to squeeze between the taxi and the row of parked cars without mishap, and drove somewhat uncertainly off down the street. (I half expected him to pull over and get out of his care, but that didn't happen.)  The taxi driver helped me put my suitcase in the boot, we got in his car and headed for the airport. 

I was left both bemused and a bit shocked by this surreal event, especially given that it was only 9:30am, too early for serious drinking, even in Glasgow.  For his part, the driver didn’t seem fazed; he told me that in his youth he used to work security for a night club in the Glasgow City Centre, and that he’d also been called every name in the book in his former career managing truck drivers.

It did, however, leave me thinking about different kinds of anger.  Let’s start with the sports car driver:  The primary adaptive response to coming upon someone who’s blocked your way with sloppy double parking is probably annoyance or irritation; afterall, it is Hyndland, with its many one way or narrow streets.  You don’t drive in Hyndland without expecting to get stuck briefly behind someone loading or unloading.  (Some people, like Diane’s former driving instructor, refuse to drive in Hyndland for just this reason.) So irritation is perfectly understandable and appropriate. 

In contrast, the young man’s response was not irritation but road rage, the kind of reaction that leads to escalation and physical violence if answered in kind.  It’s impossible to know exactly what was going on with the young man, but the taxi driver and I both thought that the his reaction was partly due to his having an audience in the car with him, that is, another young guy.  So was this secondary reactive anger, motivated by some other prior emotion? For example, it could have been fear at having almost hit the taxi after trying to race up Novar Drive, or else by shame at loss of face in front of his friend, or even physical distress from being hung over.  We have no way of knowing which if any of this might have been going on. 

But there was also an element of bullying to the young man’s behavior, that is, instrumental anger, which is displayed in order to gain power or control over another person by frightening or shaming them.  Finally, the young man’s over-reaction could have also had an element of primary maladaptive anger to it, so that the taxi driver’s annoying but minor imposition on the young guy’s “driving space” might have felt something like:  “This is the story of my life; this kind of thing always happens to me; older people are always getting in my way and keeping me from living my life, then ignoring me when I complain. I’ve had it; I’m not putting up with this crap anymore!”

If I had to guess, I’d say it was a mixture of all these things.

As for the taxi driver, I have to say that I am quite impressed by his response: He didn’t take it personally, he didn’t over-react, which might well have led to further escalation and possibly to physical violence.  But at the same time, he didn’t give ground either: that is, he met the young man’s attacking language with firm, assertive, protective anger.  Beyond this, his response was mixed with a bit of classically Glaswegian humour.  And a strategic therapist would have been impressed by the taxi driver’s use of paradoxical injunction, a technique that is particularly effective with people high in psychological reactance (a fancy word for hating being told what to do).

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