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road sage

I was in the left lane. Up ahead, the right lane was ending, having been blocked by a sudden outbreak of summer construction. Traffic bunched up as those stranded tried to merge. Following the rules of the road and common courtesy, I slowed up a tad and allowed an Audi to pull in front of me. The driver gave me the wave. All seemed as it should be. The system worked.

Yet this moment in the peaceable automotive kingdom was short-lived. Only seconds had passed since I'd let Mr. Audi in and yet, there I was, watching in dismay as he worked furiously to block any other cars from merging. The guy I'd helped out of the goodness of my heart was now refusing to pass on the favour. He wasn't just unconsciously refusing, he was actively using every means at his disposal, playing chicken with anyone who dared to look into his lane, to make sure that no other driver went before him. Having been the beneficiary of a good deed, he was staunchly exerting his right to do no good himself.

Had not Heaven an eye? Was all the lightning wasted?

It was just as that 1970s-era bumper sticker said: "Do onto others. Then split."

And so occurred another example of "bad carma." Negative energy. Now, before I proceed, let me admit that I'm not an expert on the subject of actual karma. Like most westerners, I don't see it as the expression of an extended cycle of cause and effect, with or without involvement of a higher power, that might lead to enlightenment. I see it as a cosmic scorecard; a spiritual version of The Price Is Right with rewards doled out to whomever guesses the correct number of good deeds needed to deserve a new washer and dryer.

When I refer to "carma," I'm referring to cause and effect on the open road – a place where, in theory at least, what you do can ultimately come back to hurt you. On the road, what goes around comes around. Most ancient societies placed the poor treatment of travellers as one of the worst sins a person can commit. Out in the modern traffic jungle, an environment that is arguably far more hostile than, say, your average Roman thoroughfare, bad deeds and selfish acts build up.

For instance, I'd like to believe that some time later that day, perhaps outside a designer cheese shop or parked in front of a Teutonic lawn furniture centre, Mr. Audi received a little ding in his door, a dent equivalent to the petty behaviour he'd exhibited earlier. I'd like to believe this, but lately I'm coming to accept that it's the kind-hearted motorists who are being punished. It's as if the road can be divided into three camps: The Good, The Bad and The Non-Existent.

I can break this carma cycle of cause and effect into four main types:

There's bad carma, pure and simple. Here's an example: I'm accelerating to merge on to the highway. You speed up and try to cut me off. You're trying to kill me. That's bad carma. I'm not a violent person, but I hope that, later on this afternoon, your car spontaneously combusts with only you in it.

There's bad carma that has a good outcome. For instance, you're tailgating me. That's a bad deed. But then for some reason you have to swerve and your car crashes into a guard rail. You're not hurt, but your car just took $2,500 worth of damage. That's a good outcome. The world is in balance. Namaste.

There's good carma with a good outcome. Case in point: Even though you don't have to, you let me merge in front of you. There's no ulterior motive. I'm not your type (this almost goes without saying) and you're not in a particularly good mood. You're just being nice.

Then, finally, there's good carma with a bad outcome. You let me in and then my car is struck by lightning. There's no way you could have seen this coming. It wasn't even raining! Good deed, but bad outcome. Sometimes life is strange.

If we're being honest, we've all engaged in carma's various forms. You can be a saint in the morning and a sinner in the afternoon.

The drivers I don't understand are the ones like Mr. Audi. How do you receive a good deed and automatically turn it into a selfish act? I'm guessing their transgressions aren't limited to the confines of the automobile. In all likelihood, Mr. Audi spends his day cheating customers out of their money and co-workers out of their credit and then books off and hops into his Audi Q7. He then cruises home, cutting off motorists and almost killing a few cyclists along the way, until he arrives at his domicile with just enough time to yell at his wife and not read to his kids.

That's why carma will only ever be a concept to me. I'd trade all the bad carma in the world just to know that one day Mr. Audi is going to spend the rest of eternity in a good old-fashioned Hell.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy