Posted by: Ken Homer | April 12, 2008

Respect, Road Rage and Promises

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”

~ Aretha Franklin

You’ve probably heard about the 37 year old father who picked up his two sons after work and headed home in rush hour traffic like he did every other day living here in the Bay Area. 

Apparently, he cut off another motorist and was shot dead as a result, while his kids looked on helplessly.

In today’s comments section of the San Francisco Chronicle a reader points out a harsh reality:

“But I understand why the homeboy reacted the way he did, if, as reported, he was cut off by another driver. If someone cuts me of, I’m going to stare down the punk, because in all essence sometimes we do things for respect, even if it means going to meet our maker… This is a whole new world where most of the people today don’t have any respect for life. Whatsoever.”

Tome, 25 – San Francisco – emphasis added.

Kind of chilling isn’t it?

I happen to disagree with the perspective that “most people” lack any respect for life – in fact I would say it is just the opposite, “most people have great respect for life.”

But there are people who do lack any respect for life. It would seem there always have been. 

While it is easy to point the finger at the rage-filled men who feel so powerless that they can only buy respect at gunpoint, people who lack respect for life can also be found in places where many of us may not want to look, sometimes very close to home.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were out walking. We were standing at a stoplight waiting to cross the street.

The light went to yellow, and a van a half a block away suddenly gunned it and, although the light had turned red a good two or three seconds before he entered the intersection, he blew through doing about 50 mph – this in a 25 mph zone.

Anger flooded me and without thinking, I shouted at him, calling him an particular body part. He slammed on his brakes, pulled over and jumped out of his van. 

The words he used I will not print here, but it was clear that my anger at his violating the traffic laws had triggered a far greater anger in him. This guy was ready to do me violent harm.  

I chose to walk on and ignore him wondering if he would come after me and what I would do if he did. Fortunately, he got back in his van and drove off. 

But my wife was very upset. 

“What would you have done if he had a gun or a knife or a club and he had come at us? I know what he did was wrong and I am just as pissed about it as you are, but you have to assume everybody is armed and angry these days.

I want your promise that you will not yell at drivers who run stop signs and red lights or who speed through the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood part was tough for me to promise – we live on a quiet street and I do yell at cars that do 45 mph down the streets where small children, pets and elderly people live. 

I agreed reluctantly that day.

After reading the story in the paper about this young father and his two small boys. I am renewing my promise with much greater vigor.

Paradoxically, I find myself in the position of needing to respect people who may have no respect for life.





  1. Hi Ken, you surface a very important question that I’d actually like to understand better. What does it mean to show respect to another? Be respectful?

    I understand that to be loved we show love. To be a friend is the best way to have friends. And yet, what does it mean to respect and be respectful, particularly in the face of a disrespectful act? What are our options? What does it look like? Sound like?

    What is the relationship of respect/disrespect and fear?

  2. Hi LaDonna,

    All great questions!

    How do you answer them?


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