I learned the power of my thumb on Friday, October 14, 2022. That was the day Blink-182 released the first single for their newest album. All I wanted to do was drive around, run some errands, rock out and enjoy it. The sun was shining. The air was cool and crisp. And I was vibing along to my favorite band, in a very good mood. Then I tried to change lanes.

A gaudy black SUV was diagonally behind me, with more than enough room to let me over. But it didn’t. Instead, as I flashed my turn signal, it sped up just fast enough to block me from merging. I got a look at the driver, who I pegged as a mid-50s lady with short, salt-and-pepper hair, ghastly jewelry, and dark sunglasses with lenses the size of drink coasters. She looked like Elliot Gould from Ocean’s 11, if that helps.

I don’t know what it was that caused my next move. Maybe it was the sounds of rebellious pop punk from my youth, combined with the lack of patience for bullshit that comes with middle age. Whatever the impetus, I honked my horn, got her attention, then lifted my hand. But it wasn’t my middle finger that I flipped up. Instead, I showed her my thumb, and it was turned down. Yes, I gave that vexing driver a thumbs down, and it was exhilarating. Her reaction wasn’t anger, or even self-satisfaction. She was confused. Genuinely puzzled. Like she’d just read a review of herself online. And that’s when I knew I’d struck gestural gold.

That’s when I knew I’d struck gestural gold.

Prior to my discovery, I was a frequent middle finger flipper. I admit, even the slightest motor foul committed by another driver would, in my mind, justify throwing them the overused, vulgar gesture. I was frivolous, careless, and wasteful with an expression that meant something really serious. Well, at one point it did. Now, the middle finger has become a watered down version of a once-powerful insult. The gesture’s overuse has diluted its potency and, as a result, makes it easily dismissed and blown off by most recipients. It also highlights the casual way so many of us are so quick to insult one another.

The thumbs down, though? It’s subtle. It’s a bit more dignified. And, based on my use of it over this past year, it checks all the boxes the middle finger once did with none of the crassness. When I turn my thumb at someone, people look confused, humiliated, disgraced, and annoyed. These drivers were put on notice. I caught them, and let them know I wasn’t so much angry as I was disappointed.

We live in an angry world, which is often conveyed in hollow and meaningless ways. It’s a constant barrage of anonymous social media comments, faceless text messages, and stale, canned reactions like casually flipping someone the bird. We can do better. I think we can be better.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the satisfaction of a genuinely good middle finger. There are certainly instances when, if used properly, it’s the best gesture for the job. And boy can it feel good.

The middle finger is an aggro-rock, heavy metal salute. The thumbs down is drama.

But with recent statistics showing that the number of road rage injuries and deaths has climbed every year since 2018, the middle finger can be dangerous if taken too seriously by the wrong idiot. The thumbs down is, in a way, much friendlier. The middle finger is an aggro-rock, heavy metal salute that could potentially incite violence. The thumbs down is drama. It’s “commuter theater”. It’s the Jazz Hands of road rage, a silent “booooo!” with enough razzle-dazzle to maybe shock people into self-reflection.

And, let’s not forget, it’s better for kids. Ideally, we’d all set a perfect example by taking the high road and completely ignoring bad drivers in front of children. But, let’s be honest — some of those drivers deserve their comeuppance, and we’re only human.

With a thumbs down, you don’t have to worry about your kid being present to or mimicking a nasty, boorish habit in front of the wrong crowd. In fact, if their teacher caught them throwing a thumbs down at another student who wronged them, they’d probably get a gold star for effectively communicating their emotions without resorting to filth.

Okay, maybe not. But the reactions I’ve gotten when giving a thumbs down have all been different. The ones I remember the most are those where a smirk or hint of amusement spreads across the face of another driver, seeming to admit, “Alright. You caught me. I was being a jerk in my car. I’m sorry.”

Who knows if that’s actually what they were thinking? But it definitely wasn’t, “I’m gonna beat the #$%^ out of this mother $%^&er because he gave me the middle finger and I need to re-establish automotive dominance.” For me, the threat of those days is in the past. In fact, I doubt I’ll ever use the middle finger again. At least until the day someone dares to give me the thumbs down.