Little Transgressions Lasting Impressions

Our culture for long has insisted on trivial behavioral rules to be practiced on social occasions. How would we react if, when in midst of a dinner, someone makes loud clinging noises with his spoon and fork, masticates his food so clamorously that big morsels spills over on to the table cloth? Our reaction is: “Doesn’t he know any manners at all?” This is definitely the kind of “manners” we don’t want our children to witness or look up to. But the bitter fact is that we completely forget the “manners” when we drive on the road. Our behaviour on roads (at least in big cities) is quite unruly and self centered like the guy spilling the food over the table cloth. And that is the kind of “manners” we teach to our kids when we take them along in our vehicle. Though our little transgressions doesn’t create grave injustice to our fellow people, it sends out all wrong messages to the future generations. For instance, we are quite impatient when we wait in traffic signals. Even before the light turns yellow, half of the vehicles have already crossed the stop line and vrooming almost angrily, ready to go. When the light turns from red to yellow, the vehicles start whizzing past like f1 race cars. We see the signal turn from green to yellow, asking us to slowdown and be ready to stop. But we speed up and try to get across before the lights turn red. Well, how much of impact this transgression has on our fellow motorists or pedestrians? Very little. So little that he or she might curse us at the moment but totally forget afterwards. But the impression you give to your son or daughter or your little brother has everlasting effect. Children learn from each act of their elders. Isn’t patience a worthy virtue to be taught to a kid? But we are showing our kids how to be impatient on road which can indeed prove fatal!. In the end, all that matters to us seems to be whether we get across the road faster or not.

The other aspect of impatience is “honking”. I still remember what my Finland colleague had to say when he saw Indian traffic: “I don’t know what is with you people and honking. People honk for everything. I am coming behind you. Honk! Honk! I want to overtake you. Honk! Honk! I am driving in this road. Honk! Honk! In Finland, if you honk unnecessarily, it means you have got some serious problem”. He couldn’t have put it in better words. Before being too harsh on Indian motorists, let us accept the fact that Indian roads are harsher than any other roads on the planet. The traffic is hectic unlike the European roads, where rarely does a situation demand the use of a horn. Agreed, but that doesn’t warrant us to use a horn whenever we lose our nerve. Before honking, we should acknowledge the fact that the motorists before us are equally helpless when it comes to moving the traffic. Honking will not move a stagnant traffic; it can only increase your headache. Honkers sometimes act as if they own the road. All road users are equals and honking surely doesn’t make us “first among the equals”. Horns are just a way of warning unaware fellow road users and are not a vent for our anger. We surely don’t want to teach the same kind of hot-headed egotism to our kids. The notion of “self being important than the society” is a legacy left behind by the colonialists. Adam Smith only said that a man must perform a role that best suits him. Surely he didn’t mean that a man must put his self-interest first even if it means betraying the society.

Another notion left behind by the colonialists is “motor feudalism”; the notion of superiority of motor vehicle users. This is evident even in our traffic signaling system. Very little time is given to for pedestrians to cross the road (may be a 10 second interval once every 150 seconds). The motorists have no regard for pedestrians or cyclists. A Pedestrian has to be literally a good runner or a long jumper to cross the road and dodge the buzzing traffic. Cyclists find themselves being treated with disdain, as they are believed to clog the traffic unnecessarily. Such inequality based on materialism, inbred in our social system is reflected everywhere. And future generations witnessing such indifference will turn out to be just as indifferent as us. This doesn’t stop here. Educated people tend to bend some rules on roads just to make it to home faster. We consider dogs and beggars as nuisance to traffic. Do dogs know that roads are only for traffic? Shouldn’t we show a little compassion for them when we encounter them on road, rather than kick and shoo them away? Clearly our behaviour on road tells a lot about the “manners” we have cultivated in the society. The impression we make on the future generation in this regard looks bleak and messy. A kid who watches his dad speeding up on seeing the yellow traffic lights rather than slowing down or honking furiously for no reason or not slowing down at the zebra crossing for pedestrians, would more likely become the same hot-headed impatient egotist that his dad has epitomized. Our behaviour on the road thus points out the dwindling of ethical values in our new hasty urban world. Let us ask ourselves, is this what we want the future generation to learn from us: indifference, impatience and lack of compassion. A lot can be blamed on the pressures of urban life which has taken a heavy toll on us. Maintaining a level head at such times can be extremely difficult. Even otherwise normal individuals turn a little hasty when in midst of hectic traffic. The frenzy of the world has put us into a rat race, where the self has become more important than the society and the ends have taken precedence over the means. We have to change ourselves if we need to leave a better society behind us. We shouldn’t allow the whirlwind of urban life shear away the values and virtues we stand for. The society and the values it represent will have to stand the strenuous test of time to deliver better humans over generations.

Nallasivan V

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