What looking inside a road rager's brain can teach us about humanity.

So you're driving along, sipping on a chai tea latte and listening to the dulcet tones of Ira Glass.

Or maybe your jam is the BBC or Prairie Home Companion or that new favorite whale song/world music/Buddhist chant remix. But whatever you're listening to, you're driving along all easy-peasy.

And then, around a corner, you encounter ... them.


The literal incarnation of evil.

The one person who can shatter your nebula of car calm and awaken the elemental fury within you: a person going three miles an hour under the speed limit.

And they're in front of you in a nonpassing zone.

GIF from Disney's "Hercules."

A lot of us get road rage sometimes. Like, pretty much everybody.

According to AAA (you know, the folks who'll come and get you if your car breaks down), nearly 80% of drivers were significantly angry behind the wheel at least once in the last year. About half tailgated or yelled at other drivers and about a quarter admitted to purposefully trying to block another car from changing lanes.

Haven't you ever heard of zipper merging?! Photo from iStock.

Road rage isn't just an American problem, either — it's been seen pretty much everywhere cars are used.

So what snaps in our brains when we throw up a middle finger or honk aggressively or scream at someone we don't even know?

If we can figure out why our brains freak out behind the wheel, maybe we can fight back and stay calm.

There isn't a simple answer, but scientists and researchers have a few ideas about what contributes to that road-fueled rage you feel burning inside you. Those road rage factors reveal a few interesting quirks in human psychology, too — quirks that, once we know about them, we can possibly turn around.

Road rage reason number one: Cars don't have faces. And that matters more than you'd think.

No matter what nickname you give to your car (Ol' Jeepy Joe), no matter what funny bumper stickers you add, no matter how many weird fake eyelashes you attach...

Car eyelashes. Car. Eyelashes. Photo from Hazel Nicholson/Flickr.

... a car just isn't the same as a living breathing human being. And our brains just don't know how to handle that.

Eye contact is one of the most important ways people learn to empathize with each other. But, really, when was the last time you were able to make eye contact with someone on the road? If you're lucky, you might get a half-second glance over while you're passing them (after all, you're supposed to keep your eyes on the road, not ogling other drivers).

For the most part, driving anonymizes us. And that makes us jerks.

Studies have found that being anonymous not only makes us more aggressive drivers, it makes us more likely to bully people online, and even cheat at video games.

OK, so we just have to paint giant faces on all our cars, right? And then we can go back to sipping on chai and listening to public radio?

Well, we're not done, 'cause our brains love to jump to conclusions too.

We've got left and right turn signals down (theoretically ... kind of ... not really), but what's the signal for "I've got a screaming infant in the backseat" or "I've been at work for 18 hours pulling shifts at emergency care" or "my dog literally just threw up in my lap"?

'Cause there's no way to tell people on the highway that. No way to explain our mistakes or why we're suddenly distracted. And this might lead to something psychologists call the "fundamental attribution error."

Yeah, you look real happy now, bub, but just wait until she starts crying, pooping, and throwing up all at the same time at 60 miles an hour. Then we'll see if you're so dang chipper. Photo from iStock.

Basically, when we do something bad ourselves, we explain it away as a reaction to the situation. But our brains aren't wired that way for the actions of other people. Instead, we blame whatever that person is doing on who they are, not the situation.

I mean, obviously, when I speed it's because I drank a 64-ounce Big Gulp and need to find a bathroom, like, 10 minutes ago, but when they speed it's because they're a horrible speed-demon with poor impulse control!

What's worse, we all tend to think we're above-average drivers too, which means we tend to assign blame to everyone but ourselves.

And those quirks combined might make it a lot easier to blow our lid. Nobody wants to yell at the exhausted doctor or mom, but we almost never get to see the real person behind the wheel until it's too late, so our brains are only too happy to jump to conclusions.

OK, one more road rage factor: Maybe it's that we really, really hate losing. And traffic feels like losing.

Our brains are wired with a concept known as loss aversion. Basically, we're predisposed to hate losing, even more than we love winning. And traffic feels like losing.

For one thing, heavy traffic can mean it takes longer for us to get to our destination, which makes us feel like we're losing time.

Truly, this is the winter of our discontent. Photo from iStock.

And for another, the traffic in and of itself can be a problem. In Tom Vanderbilt's book "Traffic," Richard Larson, an engineer and design expert at MIT, points out that seeing people get ahead of us in queues or lanes tends to irritate us, even if our rivals are in a completely separate lane!

I know that, for me, there's always a microsecond of annoyance when people pass me on the highway — even if they're in a completely different lane. Seeing someone get ahead of us feels unfair. It feels like they're cutting in line.

And when it's in standstill traffic, and I see the next lane start to move, but not mine...

Add to this that driving can be inherently dangerous and stressful for many people, and is it really a surprise we blow up?

Road rage might seem funny because how it comes about or maybe even a little silly, getting upset at stuff on the highway. But it's no big deal, right? Driving gives our brains every reason to get mad and no reason to stop.

The thing is, though, road rage isn't really funny.

In those same estimates from AAA that identified 80% of drivers experienced anger or road rage, they also estimated that 8 million drivers engaged in "extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle."

In fact, one study found that aggressive driving was a factor in more than half of fatal accidents from 2003 to 2007. So we should probably do some work to stop road rage while we're ahead.

Now that we know why our brains act this way, maybe we can do something about it.

It's OK to feel your hackles raise at being stuck behind a slow driver or to feel stressed out in the car. It's OK to want to avoid bad drivers or be scared or angry if someone comes out of nowhere into your lane. And it's obviously OK to have a bad day — we can't always control how our brains process the information around us.

But we do have some degree of control over our own actions in the car. Muting your road rage could be as simple as trying to empathize with a new mom driver who's baby is screaming, even if you can't see her face. Or maybe it's trying to give that Prius the benefit of the doubt when it makes a mistake in your lane because you never know what kind of day that driver's had. Or maybe it's just remembering that driving isn't a race and a few extra minutes in traffic probably won't kill you.

Maybe — if we stay mindful about the tricks driving can play on our brains and cut each other a little bit of slack — we can all stay calm and safe on the roadway.


Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick, and Gavin are 28, 26, and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching (Game of Thrones), and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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